In February 2017 Mrs. Rachel Caste wrote, for the New York Time, a clear and illuminating article titled “The Age of Rudeness”.
“As the social contract frays, what does it mean to be polite?” is the opening question and one that, in less elegant way, I often ask myself:
“The social code -she concludes- remains unwritten, and it has always interested me how many problems this poses in the matter of ascertaining the truth. The truth often appears in the guise of a threat to the social code. It has this in common with rudeness. When people tell the truth, they can experience a feeling of release from pretence that is perhaps similar to the release of rudeness. It might follow that people can mistake truth for rudeness, and rudeness for truth. It may only be by examining the aftermath of each that it becomes possible to prove which was which”
It is easy to be rude while sharing the road on motorcycle. And I do not mean “barbarian rude”, the one using explicit and vulgar words or gestures. One can be rude in a subtler way: a challenging overtake, negation of right of way, challenge to pedestrians, inappropriate use of signals, aggressive riding … the list borders on breaking the traffic rules and it can go for long.
No need, since every road users can recognise rudeness in Driving & Riding quite immediately.
To paraphrase Mrs. Rachel Caste exercising the rights of the road can be confused as rudeness. I was considering this last night when, approaching a traffic light with green in my favour I saw a couple trying to cross against the light: for a pedestrian in town, quite often, a red light is just an indication to cross with caution and it is not always easy for them to evaluate the approaching speed of a motorcycle. I had the right but, kindly, I reduced speed allowing them to complete the crossing: and then on my left a fellow rider (two on a scooter) overtook me, sprinted near the couple blasting the (feeble) horn.
Probably they wanted to teach a lesson, like saying “Respect the traffic light and my rights, you poor not-owners-of-a-motor-vehicle”. Maybe they just wanted to have fun at the opening of a Friday evening. Or they wanted to show the power of being right to people caught in wrong doing.
I am inclined to think that the latter was the reason: rudeness is, in my book, an inappropriate use of real or perceived power. We tend to be rude with people that we consider “with less power” in our social scale, people we consider “under our power”. This is way the “authorities” or people with uniform symbols of power are in general rude while approaching the citizens.
What great act of rudeness we submit ourselves almost dally when, calling a customer’s service, we are placed in line “waiting for the first available operator”: they have the power and you do not.
The way one exercise power (of any kind) is a sure sign of progress and illuminate civilisation, a test of our status in the fight against sordid bestiality. We can face the test almost every hour of our day, contributing to the creation of a more ethic society.
The bright side of this story is that if you show kindness you may discover that it is viral and it generates kindness in return.
It is not always the case but a biker returning your kind salute when crossing is, for now, a good sign that courtesy is still alive.