You’re in a supermarket, in the canned food aisle. You’re looking for baked beans, but all they have is the tomato sauce variety.
Not one who wants to watch the world burn, you keep looking for the ham sauce. You take a step back to get a better view, when you notice the ground you just trod on mysteriously feels like someone’s foot. Oops, it was. The foot was in the way though. You let out a barely audible groan, an indicator that you are sort of sorry, but not really.
A crisp, clear apology is returned. Crisis averted, and all is well again in the world. You are Mandela, he is de Clerk. That Nobel Peace Prize isn’t too far off.
It was clearly you that stepped on his foot, yet it was him that offered an apology – the sincere one anyway. This seems absurd. But it’s called manners, a form of etiquette we deem worthy of displaying in these situations. The same etiquette that doesn’t exist in any way whatsoever once you’re behind the wheel of a one point six tonne vehicle. Because when you’re in that car, it’s Mad Max, and they’re all war boys.
This change in behaviour is puzzling. Why would we behave so differently from our roles as friendly pedestrian to maniacal driver? Pedestrian etiquette involves staying out of the way of fellow pedestrians and not hindering their ability to travel, whilst driving etiquette – well, quite clearly an oxymoron.
There’s a theory to this madness, and it’s all down to anonymity.
When you’re walking in public, it’s you – all of you, and there’s no easy way to escape that. You may as well be wearing a sandwich board outlining your personal details, weekly schedule and list of fears & weaknesses. When you’re behind the wheel, you are offered an element of anonymity. They (probably) won’t recognise you, and total solitude is but a slight tap from your right foot.
Let’s imagine for a minute what it would be like if our behaviour whilst walking mirrored that of our driving.
It’d be bedlam.
The slightest misstep by an oncoming pedestrian would double our blood pressure. A Current Affair would have segments on Sidewalk Rage. We would have hand-held horns that indicate our utter contempt of other people’s inability to walk.
It would be hilarious. But we don’t. We walk like we walk far closer to how a community should treat each other.
We’re all here together, and although there’s some terrible drivers out there, when you’re moments from planting a sticky bomb under their car, just remember: This isn’t how you’d treat them at a supermarket. It’s not how you’d treat them in your office, and it’s not how you’d treat them on a pedestrian crossing.
They’re only human, after all.