Petty Pedestrians

A favorite quote of mine from Gandhi is “be the change you want to see in the world”. Simple and to the point, it is a message that transcends cultures and time. Act to others the way you want to be treated and the way you want people to treat each other. This is of course easier said than done; being mistreated creates a lot of emotional responses, but excessive kindness is not the one that jumps to mind. The funny thing about this is that kindness is a surprisingly effective count to negative behaviour.

Case in point, the other night I was driving home from a Toastmasters speaking contest. I was feeling pretty great, having won first place and having received the generous support of fellow club members that showed up to cheer me on. Driving home dressed to the nines, my car window rolled down to enjoy the warm weather and blare my eclectic selection of music (i.e. the theme song to Shaft), I was feeling on top of the world.

Then it happened. As I approached a cross walk I spotted a man walking to the street edge. Thankfully, I was going under the speed limit, so stopping for the pedestrian was not an issue. The man then began to slink across the street, purposely dragging out the process as long as possible. Pausing in front my car, he began to yawn and stretch, an admirable feat of balance given that was holding a case of alcohol in one hand…a little much for a Wednesday night, but who am I to judge. Turning to me, he proclaimed that I was driving a bit “fast”. At this point, I could have given him the smart-ass comment that moving faster was the general purpose of a car; otherwise I would be running and saving a pile of money. Instead I simply reminded the man that I had stopped for him. Conveniently, around the same point, my car radio belted out the lyrics “shut your mouth” from the Shaft song, allowing my car radio to retort for me.

The man’s response was to begin walking backwards, holding me up while another pedestrian approached the crosswalk and crossed. At this point, I could have responded in a lot of ways. I could have gotten out of my car and asked him why he felt it was appropriate to treat another human being this way. I could have explained to him to the reasoning for speed limits and the economic impacts he was creating by slowing down transportation…either with my words or my fists. More to the point, I could have hit him with my car.

The trouble is, none of these would have meant that I was being the change I wanted to see in the world. Also, many of them would have meant wasting needless amount of time, whether in conversation, fisticuffs, or prison for what was really a 30 second interaction. Instead, I simply allowed a smile to creep across my face as the man finally stepped to the curb. Turning to him, I proclaimed to him and everyone else who could hear me over the iconic Blaxploitation soundtrack: “have a great day sir!” He responded with a small smirk and a raised middle finger. Though he held a smile for a few seconds, his eyes betrayed emotional defeat; the man was clearly not getting the response his misguided advocacy for pedestrian rights had intended.

At this point I drove away, leaving the man with his case of cheap beer and weeknight drinking session to disappear into the darkness. With me, I took my smile, contest trophy, and material for this week’s blog post. Moments like these serve as powerful reminders to never discount the power of kindness when confronted by individuals unfamiliar with the concept. Remember to be the change that you want to see in the world!

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