The other day, while driving my mother-in-law’s old car, to keep it running while she is away, I tried to pull out of a service station. Well, a young bloke in a high powered V8 cut in front of me and gave me such a withering look of utter distain, “Just look at that heap of junk! How dare you try to get in front of ME??” he seemed to be saying. I just had to laugh but it set me thinking about road rage and the seemingly random attacks on individuals or small groups, when death and severe injury have occurred, that are reported daily in the media. What is the trigger; what is the motivation?
All people, particularly the young, have over the ages been encouraged to keep ‘good’ company, or at the very least, advised to avoid ‘bad’ company. The reason is that the company we keep influence our thoughts and therefore our actions. The effects of the company we keep may be temporary or longer term, depending on the duration of the association with that ‘company’ and the strength of the emotional attachment to the company. In this context, it should be emphasized that ‘company’ includes music, books and magazines, pictures, movies as well as human companions. Many of us have experienced the effect of ‘bad company’, either personally, or have witnessed it through the effect it has had on our friends or family, particularly children.
We, all of us, will behave in a socially unacceptable manner when with certain other people, who we may consider ‘good blokes just having some fun’ – particularly if fuelled by alcohol. And yet away from that company, and in a different environment, we would not dream of behaving in that same manner. All of us will ‘pick up’ patterns of behaviour when in the company of certain others, that, on reflection, we are ashamed of, and would not like to be widely known. Normally decent people are often enticed, pressured or encouraged to engage in degrading, foolish or generally unacceptable behaviour, again particularly if alcohol is involved. Positions of power or influence often have the effect of deluding the incumbent into believing that they are either above the law or that they will not be discovered, and because of this erroneous belief, they may then be tempted into engaging in criminal acts (physical abuse, abuse of financial trust and sexual abuse are not unknown in these situations).
A well known and more public example of unacceptable behaviour is the violence induced by ‘mob rule’ at some football matches, or at any other place where emotions are highly charged. Anyone who has ever attended a ‘rock concert’ knows well the power of lyrics or words, combined with music, drugs and alcohol; how the crowd gets in the mood, as it were.
If we ask, “Why should this be?” and follow this through, we will find, if we examine our normal reaction to any given situation, it will be a certainty that in most cases our reaction seems to occur without thought. It appears to arise from habit. And what is habit, but a many times reinforced action or re-action? For instance if we are shouted at in anger, our normal reaction is to shout back with equal vigour and anger. How many people have reacted angrily when hooted at, or given a rude gesture when driving in traffic? If we are slighted or injured in any way, even if the injury is only a perceived injury, the general normal reaction is to retaliate. Extreme examples of this are vendettas and the feuds that prevail within families or between families, sometimes for generations, and the relatively new phenomena of “road rage” and “air rage”. Much of this comes from arrogance – I am better than you; therefore you must be worse than me; therefore because I am better than you I can do what I like. Sound familiar?
On the other hand if we are greeted with a smile, the natural reaction is to smile back. Likewise, the natural reaction to a kind, generous or compassionate action is to respond in like manner. What are these if not conditioned responses?
So it is with life and ethics. We need to try and be ethical in all our dealings with our fellow beings; to ‘condition’ ourselves to behave with courtesy and excellence at all times. This is not easy – but what is the alternative? Isn’t it better to love one’s fellow man rather than experience fear or hate?