Thursday, 9 October 2008

After you!

Most days, as I head to lunch or my morning coffee break, I get a practical reminder of the difficulty of ethical behaviour. Through the middle of our campus runs a road; a proper road, mind you, with cars and everything. It once had proper houses, too (and even a corner shop) , but these were demolished and built over a few years back in one of the university's periodic fits of architectural grandeur. If anyone had asked me, I would have said I quite liked that the world-leading Centre for Random Robotics was based in a three-bed semi with a neglected garden, but I'm an idiot, and they didn't. The road is still used by proper cars, though, some of which are driven too fast by angry people with a grudge against higher learning and its young customers.

So, crossing this road can be quite hazardous (rightly so, imio*, as students need reminding that the Real World is out there) and the inevitable "traffic calming" bumps and lumps and pedestrian crossings have been installed. This has had the paradoxical effect of increasing the anger of the angry drivers, as not only can they not express themselves by driving aggressively at students, but now also have to screech to a halt every 50 yards at the whim of these same elitist clowns. If you are not entirely self-absorbed, it is quite disconcerting to look through a windshield into the hate-filled eyes of a motorist (whose unexpectedly disastrous GCSEs, no doubt, had put paid to his ambitions for a career in random robotics research) as you head for a quiet morning coffee. There's a whole movie, right there.

Anyway, my contribution to Let's All Just Get Along Week has been this: I don't push the pedestrian crossing button, and therefore don't activate the traffic lights, and simply wait until there is a gap in the traffic (gasp!) in the hope that if I don't make them stop, the oncoming cars won't try to kill me, and also recognise that if they don't accelerate towards the poor idiot crossing the road ahead while the light is still green then they won't scrape off their car's nether parts when they lurch at high speed over the traffic-calming pedestrian causeway that runs across the road. If only it were that simple.

The main problem is that someone usually comes along behind me as I wait, and presses the button, often repeatedly (why do people do this? Do they press light switches four or five times at home, just to be sure? Or maybe they recognise me: "Hey, there's that idiot that never presses the button! I'm going to press it FIVE TIMES!"). Thus my good intentions are overridden. I just try to keep looking straight ahead as I cross.

Another problem is that the innocent generally reap the consequences of the behaviour of the wicked. Now, some young people, particularly our overseas customers, are so nice, polite, and law-abiding that they will stand at the side of an empty road, waiting for permission from the traffic lights to cross. And, idiotic as this may seem, it does at least mean someone is actually crossing the road when the traffic light turns red. However, most British students, by contrast, are so mindlessly contrarian that they will press the button even as they cross an empty road, with the result that no-one is crossing when the light turns red 30 seconds later, and the inevitable angry trucker rolls up. The Rage Karma builds.

Being an obvious easy kill, I often end up running for it. At least then I get the satisfaction of hearing an exhaust pipe kissing the concrete behind me... My ethical conclusion? Some variation of "No good deed will go unpunished", I suppose. I will continue not to press the button, in an effort to create a better world, but will always be prepared to leg it.

* "In My Idiotic Opinion"

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