I witnessed a moment on the street last week in Sydney, and it’s stayed with me.
It was nothing really.
These kind of moments happen all the time, however I found it useful – personally – to examine the moment and break it down into its component parts.
Very simply, a woman walking across a street, against the lights, was honked by a turning car. She turned around and gave him the finger – he leaned out the window as he was passing her and screamed abuse.
No big deal, right?
Why would I waste my time thinking about this?
Okay – the woman was pushing a pram, with a baby inside. She was also talking on her cellphone. She stepped out off the curb, thrusting her pram out front, after the green pedestrian walk sign had turned red.
It was a busy inner city intersection and this thing happens all the time.
The car turning into the street had to wait for her to cross. He had a green light, and he knew that she shouldn’t have stepped out on the red. But she had a pram. What was he going to do, run her down, and the baby too?
She felt she was in the right – probably because she had a pram and a baby, which she might have felt gave her some kind of special privilege.
The driver felt he was in the right, because this woman was walking when she shouldn’t have been walking. Not only that but she was on the cellphone, which probably riled him.
So he gave her a blast on the horn, she gave him the finger, he then screamed at her out his window, she screamed back.
In that one little interchange you have all the elements of war.
Both parties feeling righteous, both feeling indignant, both responding to aggression with more aggression.
Why was the driver in a hurry? He could have waited three seconds, maybe five seconds, and the woman would have walked across the street and he wouldn’t have been delayed.
Five seconds – that’s all.
He could have waited five seconds, let her pass, and gone on his way.
Equally, the woman could have waited on the curb for the next green light – a wait of what? two minutes max? She was talking on the phone, so waiting on the curb for two minutes surely would not have been a problem.
Were they both in such a hurry?
She wasn’t walking fast, which probably aggravated the driver. She was casual. Distracted, talking on her cellphone.
Was he in an emergency rush?
I doubt it.
The lady bugged him. She made him angry, because she broke the rules. The rules state that as a pedestrian, you shouldn’t walk against a red warning signal. She broke the rules. And so he felt aggrieved, and felt he had the right to abuse her.
She meanwhile had given no thought to the safety of her baby in the pram. Stepping off the curb, against the red warning light, she thrust her pram out in front of her, completely oblivious to the turning car.
Had the driver not stopped, he would have hit the pram, and no doubt injured or killed the baby. What did she care? She was on the phone.
What was more important to her – the baby or the phone call?
Let’s say the driver had been on his cell too, had been distracted, hadn’t noticed the lady with the pram, and had hit them. Who would have been in the wrong? How would a jury determine damages? She was, after all, crossing the road illegally.
Let’s paint another scenario.
Supposing the driver, about to turn into the street, and seeing the woman crossing the road with her pram, waited for her. Waited patiently, and gave a moment’s thought to the kind of life she must lead, as a mother.
He would have had to wait between three to five seconds. And then he could have driven on.
But no – he turned and he blasted her with his horn and screamed abuse at her.
Supposing the woman, after the driver blasted his horn, pulled the phone from her ear, turned to the driver, shrugged and gave him a beautiful smile and said: Sorry. Instead of giving him the finger, then screaming abuse back at him.
Him being patient and forgiving, her being apologetic, is an equally plausible scenario.
But it didn’t happen that way.
We all do it. We all do what he did, and what she did.
And we all could also do the plausible scenario – be forgiving, be patient, say you’re sorry and smile.
It’s not that hard…