There is a behavior within a distinct subset of Seattle drivers that causes a range of negative results from small nuisances to life-threatening. I’m referring to politeness. Actually, that isn’t right. Politeness is simple, lovely, correct. Politeness is the Tao of social interaction.
The problem behavior is Meta-Politeness, a self-conscious attempt to be witnessed personifying politeness. I believe it may be normal politeness tainted by the social media status update. We now include little unnecessary flourishes with our politeness in hopes of getting a “like”.
The tiny nuisance level is usually something like a driver expressing their profound open-mindedness that perhaps, evidence to the contrary, it isn’t their turn at the 4-way stop.
“Are you sure? It’s ok? Really?”
If this was as bad as it got, I would scarcely even notice, let alone ruminate over it…let even more alone write about it!
Here’s the real problem situation:
I’ve directly experienced this many times.
Background: Cars must stop for pedestrians in a cross-walk, or when crossing at a corner and by all that is holy, they should. Cars must also stop for the minority, but high profile, idiot pedestrians anywhere, and anytime they appear. Given, stipulated & given. Obvious.
Our protagonist: Politeness Man, a free-range, pro-social do-gooder, jonesing for a “like”.
Scene: A busy street, swiftly moving 2-way traffic, and limited visibility. Oftentimes two lanes, sometimes four.
- Politeness man spots a pedestrian midblock considering the idea of crossing the street, not moving, simply waiting and watching for a safe moment to go.
- Politeness man screeches to a halt without warning. He then begins gesturing at the pedestrian to cross. Cars are coming the other way, not stopping, mostly oblivious. The pedestrian signals unreadiness and politeness-man doubles down on gestures asserting that now IS the time to cross.
- Hesitantly, the pedestrian ventures into the street and eventually oncoming traffic from the other direction notices and someone stops.
- The pedestrian crosses the street, presumably indebted for life to the magnanimous polite stranger who saved him anywhere from a few seconds to minutes of waiting.
Let’s do the politeness math.
The Charitable Act: Allowing (compelling?) someone to cross the street immediately, rather than letting them choose a safe moment on their own.
- The number of people benefiting: 1.
- The number of people inconvenienced: Many: All who were directly stopped behind politeness-man, and all those stopped from proceeding in the other direction.
Negative impacts of politeness-man not stopping?
The pedestrian may wait a frustratingly long time before crossing.
Risks imposed on others by this “politeness”:
- Serious risk of causing several cars to rear-end pileup behind politeness-man with any resulting injuries, damage, and expense as a direct result of his action.
- Death, while unlikely, is a possibility.
- Grievous bodily harm? Very possible.
- Unbearable car repair or health care costs forced on poor drivers? The possibility of them having to live without a car, or under significant resulting debt? Real.
- The same dangers are imposed on the other direction of traffic when some driver, at last, submits to the social pressure imposed by Politeness Man with an unexpected and abrupt stop.
- Life-threatening danger to the pedestrian venturing into unpredictable oncoming traffic simply because a stranger has decided to stop and demand that they cross…NOW. Politeness Man controls nothing but his own car yet suggests a false guarantee of protection and safety.
- All these risks increase exponentially in four lanes of traffic.
- Many are treated rudely so that one can be treated politely.
- Many are exposed to serious risks for a capricious personal “feel good”whim.
Politeness Man, far from being polite and having a positive impact on society, you are inconveniencing and endangering many citizens every bit as deserving and needful as the single citizen whose personal timing and executive function you have chosen to override with your own tragically clueless and impulsive need to be a “good guy”.
Your snap decision to freeze-stop traffic and all your behaviors that follow assume that you know enough about the complete strangers around you, their competence, their reaction time, their distractedness, their impulsiveness or impatience, to gamble peoples lives on it.
Your “kindness” is best understood as a number of imperious demands suddenly placed on others with burdensome risks attached in order to comply, and other equally heavy risks they must bear if they don’t. You need a profound upgrade to your insight concerning the consequences of your actions upon others. If you possessed this insight your politeness would radically change for the better… because it would be about them, not you. In the meantime…
You, ultra polite Seattle driver, are a fucking inconsiderate menace.