Thursday, June 12, 2008

Shamed by the famous words on a bumper sticker, a selfish, aggressive commuter does the right thing

When I'm driving to work, I'm a single-minded commuter who pushes straight ahead and is not, for example, fond of people cutting in just ahead of me to gain a momentary advantage. Within the bounds of safe driving (of course), I'm not going to make it easy for them. Except this morning.

I'm also an inveterate bumper sticker reader. I'm not going to tailgate to read a bumper sticker, but when I have an opportunity to pull up just behind another car in two lanes of traffic to get a better view of a bumper sticker that caught my eye, I always do. What had caught my attention was the word "Evil" in all capital letters. As I drew closer I saw that the headline read, "EVIL THRIVES."

I relaxed into the sort of warm glow you feel when confronted by a familiar, comfortable platitude. It's like slipping into an old shoe. I could see that the bumper sticker was a variant of the old chestnut attributed to Edmund Burke, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." And, sure enough, the words under the headline in smaller type were "when good men do nothing." Just as I was verifying that, I noticed that the other car's tail light was signaling a turn into my lane.

The car was just in front of me in the lane to my left, and already starting to turn (maybe I was in their blind spot). Clearly they had found they were in a turn lane they didn't want to be in, and were determined to get back on course. In a situation like that, when a car is already starting to drift into your lane, you have two options for avoiding a collision, and you have to act quickly: Either pull ahead to get out of the way, or brake to let them in. My normal instinct as a single-minded road warrior is to accelerate and pull safely ahead. In a situation like this, I normally figure it was the other driver's inattentive driving that left them in the wrong lane, and that I had no obligation to help solve their petty little problem.

But I had just been reading the paraphrase of Burke's famous words. Here was a driver in absent-minded distress. Was I going to be one of those good people doing nothing? I hit the brakes. The other driver pulled in as if entitled to the space -- without acknowledging, or probably even noticing, my little gesture. "Jerk," I would normally have thought. But I didn't care. I was a good person who had done something.

Score one for the power of literature. Or at least bumper stickers.

1 comment:

Charles J Gervasi said...

Commuting to work by bicycle is so much more peaceful. Dealing with my own motion and the motion of other vehicles while I'm behind the wheel and manipulating the steering wheel and pedals is frustrating. The same situations, say when someone pulls in front of me, are completely different on a bicycle where accelerating requires energy.