I am that pesky Uncle whose car blocks a motorcycle heading the wrong way up a one-way street, and asks the driver what he thinks he’s doing.
I’m also that elitist idiot who once rapped on a lady’s car window, and handed her a Subway sandwich wrapper she just tossed, saying, “Madam, you left something behind.”
When I was not a silver-haired senior citizen, I would often get “Who the @#* do you think you are?” in words, or body language. Now, it’s more, “Don’t waste my time, move on.”
Sometimes, it’s more hopeful. Recently, on my cycle, I caught up with a motor-cyclist who swerved across two lanes, crashed one red-light, but was forced by traffic to wait at the next. I smiled at him, and asked him how much time he’d saved by the last manouver. “Not much”. he acknowledged.
And even if he had, I persisted, what would he have done with the time. He had the grace to consider that a valid question. “True”. And actually went to say, ” I won’t do that again.”
I’m not idealistic enough to believe that I modified someone’s behaviour that morning; but I got through.
I once read that traffic in Italy – long renowned for it’s unruliness – began to tip into the lane of European civility when it became socially unacceptable to drive with extreme selfishness. In Delhi, where I live, the blatant disregard of driving rules is worsening; I don’t see the traffic police responding in any meaningful manner.
As long as I have the energy, I will continue to be that pesky Uncle. But the years have taught me that you have a much better chance of getting through when you engage with civility and decency, rather than anger. And humor is the best recipe.
Once, tired at the end of a long day commuting by metro, I stood in front of the seats reserved for senior citizens and the disabled. The two young men occupying the seats pretended not to have noticed me. Loudly, I asked, “Which one of you is a senior citizen, and which one disabled?”
One scooted into the next carriage. The other looked around, saw another white haired-gent, and asked him resignedly, “Would you want to be sitting, too?”
I think we have a responsibility to engage with our fellow citizens, to make ours a more respectful, orderly society. But, if we want to succeed, we too, need to engage with respect.