Friday, February 16, 2007

Do You Value Life?

What a big question that is. What criteria to use? In who’s opinion? How is it demonstrated?

It is a given that most people value their own life – there are inbuilt human mechanisms for survival. For example getting nervous when climbing high ladders is the body’s message to be careful or face DEATH!

Or alternatively why babies give a cringing expression of bitter taste and spit out food which spooks their taste buds, is precautionary to guard against accidently ingesting anything poisonous or harmful.


So the question really is how much do people value OTHER people’s lives. Because with strangers, there is no connection or commitment to that unknown individual directly.

A relevant demonstration of how much a person values a stranger’s life, can be witnessed everyday cycling on London roads. The decision (for the vehicle driver) is how to overtake a cyclist. There is much more depth to this decision than the rhetorical; “well you just go past ‘im, innit!

Most of the time however, with an adequate road layout, space between cycles and overtaking vehicles is roomy enough not to even invoke this question. And drivers can rumble on their way without the “stress” of decision making.


But often circumstances present a situation, where the driver has to choose between their own perceived gains (time, making progress), and what risks their actions might pass on to the cyclist being overtaken.

Typically this dilemma arises in locations such as road narrowings, pedestrian refuge islands, limited space from parked cars, and the like.

My theory is, a driver who does not value life (of other people), will overtake regardless, blasting past the vulnerable cyclist in a questionably tight gap, with little adjustment to their speed and road position. The driver willingly CHOOSES to take a risk on behalf of the cyclist.

Therefore the driver doesn’t value (a strangers) life very highly. Often it could be a deluded arrogance towards their own driving skills which clouds this decision. But the fact remains that wherever there is human judgement, there is human error.

Competent Raw Belief

The noticeably competent driver however, deals with the same situation differently, and more positively:
This driver trades off the 3 seconds time advantage which would be “gained” by blasting past the cyclist at a narrowing, (with traffic lights, such negligible time becomes irrelevant anyway).

The driver slows down, follows the cyclist through the narrowing, leaving enough distance from the cyclist’s rear wheel, not to spook or intimidate the rider – why? Because this driver cares about other people, they have the personal quality of being able to empathise with how a stranger would feel, on receipt of their driving decisions.

The driver asks internal questions to put themself in the stranger’s shoes, such as; “would I like 1,500Kg’s of unforgiving metal being thrust towards my pedalling legs? No, no I wouldn’t” and “would I appreciate wing mirrors practically striking my handlebars if I were the cyclist? Again; I’ll decide against thanks”

After navigating the narrowing, the driver executes a safe overtaking of the cyclist, leaving plenty of respectful space side by side.

Everything about this competent drivers’ decisions, trace back to the raw belief that they value OTHER people’s lives.

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