Mirror man

On my return from the petrol station, I was waiting behind a car that was wanting to turn right. The driver’s window lowered and an empty cigarette packet was lobbed out. This immediately filled me with rage and I considered getting out of my car, walking up to his open window and lobbing some of my litter into his car so he could get an idea of how some people felt about this anti social behaviour. I didn’t fortunately as I know from experience that any act which confronts the perpetrator doesn’t give them any room to manoeuvre and they are forced to entrench into their established position, i.e. he would resolve to continue throwing litter out of his window but with more conviction.

As I drove the last couple of miles to my home I considered the issues the incident had raised.

  • why was I so enraged by his attitude?
  • What did it reflect back to me about my personality?
  • My rage stemmed from the thoughtless lack of responsibility the driver displayed. Not only was he enabling Big Tobacco to continue peddling their evil product but he was inflicting its toxins onto those people who didn’t want it; no doubt his nicotine soaked cigarette end would find its way onto the tarmac several miles down the road following its packet. He must have been aware the packet was litter, that’s why he didn’t want it in his car but there his thinking stopped. He didn’t want the litter so he makes it someone else’s problem – yours and mine. His attitude was ‘there’s only me that matters, you lot can go to hell.’ I am always intrigued as to where these sort of people draw the line; would he have thrown the packet out onto the street he lived on, or on his drive? I can only think this is a small scale example of the kind of thinking that ultimately destroys the world. Had he the ambition, this driver could easily have become George Bush.

    So what does that say about me? Am I selfish in some other way and his selfishness reminds me of my own failing? What would have been the correct way to approach it?

    I wrote a post about an SUV parked on a pavement a few days ago. After speaking to one of the builders about it in a perfectly reasonable way, no other vehicles have parked on the pavement since. Whether this was coincidence or a result of my request I am not sure because most of the builders seem to have disappeared. However, the point is, my approach could have done no harm. I was being reasonable and I didn’t give any kind of ultimatum which could have involved the ego and macho pride of the workforce.

    So with this driver, I should have got out of my car, picked up the empty cigarette packet and either found a bin or put it in my car until I could get rid of it in an appropriate manner. If I had done this cheerfully and without censure, the driver had only one way to go if he chose. He could either stay where he was on this issue (“great, somebody cleans up my mess!”) or he could reflect on why someone would want to clean up his mess voluntarily. This could alert him to the possibility that his actions had consequences and that he could modify his actions to moderate the consequences.

    If enough people voluntarily cleaned up other people’s mess it would send out the signal that dropping litter was socially unacceptable. This is slowly happening with dog owners, more and more are cleaning up their dog’s mess. A couple of decades ago, nobody would have even dreamed of doing such a thing.

    Admitting you are wrong is one of the hardest things anybody can do.

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