Cardinal law of kindness cannot be waived

The simple act that keeps society together. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The simple act that keeps society together. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
A simple hand gesture — the wave of acknowledgement to a driver who has given way out of the kindness of their own heart — is the firm base on which society is built. David Loughrey investigates what happens when that wave is not offered.

Their faces remain etched in your memory.

Hard people with thin lips, people with blank, angry faces, rat-like people whose tongues flit sickeningly around sharp, discoloured, pitted teeth, people whose stubborn ignorance is writ large across their vacuous, uncomprehending slab of a visage, cunning people, bad, bad people whose wilful recalcitrance picks away at the very heart of an ordered society.

They are the people who won't give you a little wave when you make way for them while driving.

When you are driving down a thin Dunedin street with cars parked on one side, and you have slowed down and pulled in to allow them to pass because there is not enough room for two vehicles, they are the people who grip their steering wheel hard and sail on up the street without so much as appreciative eye contact, a simple nod, or, as the unwritten rules of society clearly call for: a casual little lift of the fingers off the wheel to indicate they recognise the sacrifice you have made for them.

It seems but a small gesture, one that's not terribly hard.

But it's too terribly hard for some Dunedin drivers; far too hard.

It may seem a small thing, but it's not.

The important thing to remember about the wave is it is one of the bases on which human society is built, like the concrete building platform one carefully lays and allows to dry fully before embarking upon building a house. Or like the piles that are driven deep into the soil before one starts construction on a multi-storey office block, five-star hotel or roofed stadium.

It is like the web of laws, rules and regulations that draw a tight mesh-like structure around government and commerce, allowing for the peaceful exchange of ideas and resources in what would otherwise be a lawless battleground of humankind's aspirations.

If you think about it a little, you might realise the wave is so implicit an expected driving behaviour it needs no enunciation, no scribe to commit it to paper, no agency of government to put it into law. It does not need to be published or expressed out loud, so obvious it is as something that must be done. However, that the wave is an unwritten rule makes it no less important.

Perhaps it is worthwhile to consider for a moment the effects on society if, because of some unfortunate event, the wave disappeared from drivers' collective lexicon. What if it was ignored by all in the way a small but ugly subset of Dunedin's drivers do at the moment?

Society, of course, is always in a delicate balance, subject to the passions and strange resentments of humankind, battered by the fetid winds of political unrest and ready to dissolve completely if the food supply is halted for even a day.

A hungry mob is an angry mob.

The smallest spark can light the flame of discontent.

Perhaps a car is travelling down a street, a narrow passageway linking hither with yon, an asphalt strip in a network criss-crossing the city's psyche. It comes face to face with another vehicle.

The driver subconsciously lays out imaginary tape measures up and down the road, manufactures mental grid patterns upon the tarseal, places in his or her mind each car upon that pattern, runs a complex set of metrics and comes to a conclusive decision: there is not enough room for two.

The next step is clear for the civic-minded driver; pull over and let the other pass. This simple gesture will make almost no difference to one's driving time. It is an act of decency, of simple charity, of humanism in action, an act so obviously the right one it needs neither thought nor explanation.

The driver pulls over and watches as the other approaches, their motor humming, their tyres hissing on the asphalt, their gearbox quietly whining, their radiator simmering on a warm spring day. Closer and closer they come and the world slows almost to a stop as the time of eye contact approaches.

Time does stop.

The eye contact never comes.

Time starts up again.

There is but a moment left for the wave to come, fractions of a second before the fingers can rise in acknowledgement in time for the driver that has stopped to witness that simple act. Fractions. Now mili-seconds, nano-seconds, pico-seconds and now, unbelievably, shockingly, and beyond the comprehension of normal folk, the moment is gone.

The wave - that essential wave - has not come.

The decent driver, now aggrieved, drives on in a shock-induced haze, their consciousness so completely compromised by the incident they don't notice another driver has given way for them. In this state, they fail to wave, and so the malaise spreads across the city.

Driver after driver, aggrieved and shocked, does not perform the wave and thus the disease spreads and takes hold.

A city with its moral foundation shaken starts breaking other unwritten rules; they bump into each other and forget to say sorry, they don't make way for each other when they negotiate doorways, they neglect to say `how do you do?," they forget to say "beg your pardon" when they belch, and sneezes ring out without so much as a "bless you" in response.

Dunedin citizens end up stumbling through the streets like zombies, shops are looted and processes break down, supermarkets close, there is no food left and riots erupt throughout the city because, as we know, a hungry mob is an angry mob.

And it could all have been circumvented if one careless driver had made sure they gave a simple wave of acknowledgement to another.

Surely it's not too much to ask.

Comments

This simple but arguably essential driver courtesy is sadly becoming less common. It all comes down to a general attitude of the people in the city. More now than ever, so many just don't give a rat's rear end about other motorists on the road. This is played out everyday, hundreds of times, whether the section of road be narrow or wide. As long as the Rats get to where THEY need to go WHEN they need to get there all the while gripping and massaging their phone's and ego's, that is all that matters. After experiencing all of our city's for near on 45 years of driving daily, Dunedin would be the worst city in New Zealand for driver attitudes. Just wait for the hospital rebuild and harbour development, then you'll see many more Rats being bred.

Curiously, the response described is a condition: affective, wherein the sufferer has an out of proportion emotional response, causing dissociation or fugue. Fugue.

Never mind Cardinal Law. Cardinal Sin (Singapore), and Cardinals Fang and Biggles of the Inquisition are worse.

 

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