By Homayun Taba
What’s generally expected of a driving instructor is to show us the basics of ABC – or the use of the accelerator, brake and clutch – plus how to park well and so on, but this was not the case with Joe, a driving instructor affectionately called Major. He had decided to make this a rite of passage for the young adults he trained, who would soon be sitting behind the wheel of a machine with enormous potential to do harm through their careless actions, and egoistic reactions. Major had decided that through this rare opportunity life had provided him with, to inculcate the basic grammar of gentleness and concern. It included a set of norms of civilised behaviour, at the core of which lay activating gracious, caring impulses rather than reactive ones.
He kept describing to each learner the possible scenarios where something bad could happen. So, in the very first lesson he asked each to make a promise to abide by certain ethical considerations. To be careful, avoid being in a rush or speeding, to always watch for those about to cross the road, the old, a mother with a child; always to give advance signals announcing what you were about to do. So, the result was that instead of becoming robots, Major’s students learnt what it was to be truly human, aware of consequences to oneself and to others.
Graciousness involves a unilateral commitment, ‘I will remain civil – even when faced with uncivil behaviour.’ The most effective way to learn this is by scanning the environment around oneself and observing the ungracious, often ugly behaviour of others, and deciding to avoid it.
Once politeness meant something, but today it often sounds old-fashioned. In its place pushy aggressiveness has gained acceptability – and is even rewarded. Courtesy, we notice, is fast giving way to uncaring – even rude, abrupt and uncouth – behaviour.
To build an enlightened and compassionate society, graciousness and patience need to be encouraged right from early school days. Simple social graces of courtesy, wishing others, smiling, offering help and thanking others for their kindness and consideration are stable foundations for building a more civilised society. Beyond the inspiration and intention comes the commitment to actually exhibit non-harshness, gentleness, and tenderness as soon as we get out of the bed to start our day. It does feel nice to be around people who exhibit graciousness, yet more and more one notices how so many people around seem to be on edge – which makes it all the more necessary to stay committed to our decision and to keep trying.
The only corner of the world one can be certain of improving is really within one’s own space – and this has been told to us many times by all the enlightened ones. We cannot expect from others what we are not in the habit of following and demonstrating ourselves. As St Francis of Assisi said: It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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