Monday, October 5, 2009

A community of calm commuters!

A clear symptom of the pressures that we are living under in SA today, the rising fever as one of my friends called it, is illustrated in the way people drive, in how we behave on our roads. Even big trucks and lorries have become part of the hectic and impolite push, weaving and speeding their way through normal traffic.

Perhaps I am oversensitive to this madness or have an overdeveloped sense of what is good ‘crowd behaviour’; perhaps more honestly, I have a hang-up about misbehaviour on the roads. In a time when we desperately need ordinary citizens to be law-abiding and to live according to established values, it seems out of place, even arrogant to speed along without any respect for rules, for road safety, for values or the well-being of other people. My reaction until fairly recently whenever I encountered people who sped past me, jumped a red robot or held their cellphones to their ears while driving, was that I would start to fume and fight, even using my hooter to indicate that their behaviour is unacceptable, that I disapprove…

However, since returning from holiday not long ago where I, almost like during a retreat, could relax and gain new perspective on my own unhealthy habits from a distance, I have made some firm decisions, one of which is to calm down and not allow the bad behaviour of others, however out of line, to determine my mood or actions for the day. I have realised that my main challenge as an ordinary citizen and as a Christian, is to take the gift of quietness and peace that was granted to me during my holidays, into my day-to-day context and very specifically into my manner of driving on our busy roads.

Thus, when I am on the road - which is at least an hour every day - I now deliberately drive in the slow lane, diligently keep to the speed limit and do not allow the Speedy Gonzaleses to distract me too much. Not that I do not notice them or have lost my sense of righteousness, but I don’t allow them to get to me in a way that can spoil my day. Going more slowly has additionally offered me some observations, which currently make my travelling a much bigger pleasure than before.

I have, for instance, noticed that travelling in a slow civilized manner does not necessarily cost you time or cause you to arrive later than the others. In fact I am amazed some days at how, in a strange way, I often reach my destination at exactly the same time as those who passed me along the road at high speed. Sometimes I catch up with them and even pass them where they are held up at a traffic light. Leaving earlier and travelling in a more leisurely fashion, I have also experienced a strange shift in my experience of time. Don’t ask me how it works, but nowadays I have the experience that I travel faster and reach my destinations earlier than I planned.

The biggest surprise, however, is that I have discovered many others that have made a similar choice. In fact by just travelling more slowly you find yourself becoming part of a totally new group of travellers – a community of calm commuters. Once you have joined them you make a next surprising discovery: that this community is not only much bigger than the hectic hoppers, but also much more friendly, patient and civilized. You discover that it is actually a pleasure to share the road with them.

So next time when you take to the road, try this. Leave a little bit earlier than usual, take a deep breath as you turn onto the highway, deliberately move to the slow lane and enjoy the ride. In short, come and join the community of calm commuters. And really, don’t be surprised when you turn up at your work or at whichever destination earlier than you had planned to. It happens, and it does wonders for freeing your attention to things that really matter in life!

Carel Anthonissen

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