Recently we’ve seen tragic events unfold around us, in the very homes we live in, the stadiums that we experience concerts in, the places where we eat, meet and socialise, and the roads and bridges that enable us to connect with each other. The touching depths of human empathy and kindness to these events has been overwhelming; from strangers offering homes and providing life-saving first aid to those in need to taxi drivers offering free rides.
Human kindness can be random, sometimes expected, other times not. Sometimes we see what we need to do. Take for example travelling in a 30mph zone where you’re driving past a school, and the children are being dropped off or walked in by parents. You become alert and you slow down to well below the speed limit. You notice a parent and child need to cross the road and all the other cars are ignoring them, so you safely come to a stop to let them cross and they smile at you and wave thank you. It’s the first ‘thank you’ of your day and it’s a nice way to start it off.
Other times we can forget to be kind. It’s easy to get into our car and think only of the task in hand, rather than what is around us. You’re already late for work, you were stuck at some roadworks and now there are children trying to cross the road. Inconvenience after inconvenience has struck. Someone else can stop for the children. You’re also thinking about the difficult meeting you’re going to have and it’s going around and around in your head and actually, you’re feeling quite stressed. You haven’t noticed that your speed has crept up to 34mph. You don’t see the child step out into the road.
Kindness can save lives. Random acts of kindness help us all every day, making us feel better, loved, secure, happy, special, included. It’s said that genuine kindness can de-stress us, lift our mood, slow aging, and just make us feel better.
There is a well-known psychology term called the Bystander Effect. This is where individuals are less likely to help if there are many other people present; you see it when someone has an accident on the road and the majority of cars will drive around assuming help is on its way. The Bystander Effect starkly points out human apathy; when we think that someone else will do it. Someone else will stop to let the child cross, not me. Someone else can let you out at the junction, not me. Someone else can let you pull out of a parking space, not me. But these recent tragic events show that the Bystander Effect can be ignored, even in crowded places, and even when you and other people are at risk.
The really powerful thing is that when you’re in a car, you also have the power to do something, to help someone else. What if we saw everything as a system, not just a system involving intelligent transport technology and infrastructure, but an altruistic system that needs all parts to be working – people, vehicles and non-motorised users. What if we saw the common threads that link us all – as people getting to work, school, shops, hospital – and we all help that by actively stepping in with kindness here and there, imagine how we could make our journeys and daily life better. ◆