Monday, March 2, 2009

The cowboys of the road

I see them every day - the cowboys of the road. They weave their way through the traffic as if they own the road; they rush up from behind, sit on your tail until you move aside; they scamper across red robots like rabbits being put to the chase; they pass other vehicles like formula one drivers, hell bent on getting to their destination first; they park when - and wherever they want; they fling their cigarettes, wrappings and leftovers out of the window as if the natural world outside is a big dustbin. Some will speed away after causing a minor or major accident, taking no responsibility for the hurt, inconvenience and misfortune they have caused.

This modern cowboyhood includes a wide variety of drivers and makes use of any kind of vehicle. The new cowboys range from a generation of yuppie drivers who can afford the latest car models to a gang of rude and reckless drivers of old, probably unroadworthy, models - of which quite a number are taxis. Often they want to show off or test the speed and power of a newly acquired vehicle on our public roads. Many are four by fours and heavy trucks, which roar past us in ever increasing numbers. Most of them belong in the slow lane, but more of them crudely force their way into the faster lanes.

Every day when I’m confronted with this madness, I ask myself the same question, often with anger and alarm: “Where on earth do these cowboys come from? What are the reasons for their haste and carelessness, their lack of discipline”. I do not recall such rudeness and speed hype on our roads as a long established practice. It seems to be a relatively recent development, a symptom of some illness. The other day, a young person who returned from England, remarked: “You will never see it there - in any case not to this extent”. So where do our local troubadours come from? What is driving them?

One of the reasons for the growing culture of reckless driving is of course the fact that there are more owners of cars, and therefore also more cars on the road than a while ago - more traffic, more congestion, and so also more impatience, more intolerance. There are rumours of corruption in handing out licenses to people without proper training and testing. Thus we share the road with careful courteous drivers as well as those who have little experience and do not know the most elementary rules of the road. Although the traffic department tries its best, there is no system that effectively controls reckless driving, or assures a reasonable degree of road safety. However, at the root of the problem is what I shall call a lack of “spirituality of the road” - that is, a basic respect for others who use the same road. This spirituality would include respect for the environment, for a material thing such as a car that actually also needs care and most importantly: respect for life - your own life and that of others. What is necessary, for a start perhaps, is an awareness that the flamboyant cowboy with his adventurous, but indifferent temperament is also lurking in your own heart.

We need a spirituality today which not only promises people a way to heaven or to inner peace, but one which also takes them along busy, public highways in a safe and meaningful way, helping us to discover that speed does kill and that very often slowness, patience and tolerance not only gets you home safely, but also timely. Taking time, doing things at a slower pace can actually render more effective results than the mad speed at which we travel and live.

We will do well once we realise that cowboys do not belong on the roads; they belong to a different time, in wide, uncharted and sparsely populated places, where horseback is the only possibility. There even they would understand the value of stillness and slowness!

Carel Anthonissen

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