UK Driver Attitude Problem?

Coming back to the UK after a spell in Houston, Texas, I am once again struck by the different attitudes of drivers in the UK and US, when it comes to pedestrians.

The contrast could not be more vivid. In US residential areas you only have to think about crossing the road and drivers will slow down and wait to see if you cross. In the UK such courtesy is rare. More often, drivers insist on their right of way and force the pedestrian to wait, even when it is raining.

And it seems to be getting worse, particularly at the supposed safe haven of the zebra crossing. Many drivers accelerate as they approach the crossing, daring the pedestrian to step onto it, and only stop if they do so. Timid pedestrians are just left waiting as the car gleefully flashes by.

Similarly, at the entry to a garage forecourt where cars have to cross the public pavement, driver courtesy is sometimes strangely lacking as they thrust forward in that relatively invulnerable tin box. I was once loudly tooted at for walking too slowly across such a pavement in the rain.

At the end of the day, two-way courtesy is what makes society work, particularly on a small island such as Britain. We’ve all been there – in a hurry, late for an appointment, busy day… – the temptation is there, but the present is what matters, and that pedestrian is a person of real flesh and blood, someone’s child, mother, grandma… Inconsiderate drivers need to wake up.

Who’d have thought Americans would be giving lessons to Brits on good manners?

Presence or represent

In his book Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought, Henri Bortoft gives an interesting insight into the two modes of being present in the world, which he relates to the left and right hemispheres of the brain as outlined by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and his Emissary, which he quotes:

“the right hemisphere delivers what is new as it ‘presences‘ – before the left hemisphere gets to represent it.”

Bortoft goes on to say:

“Where the right hemisphere mediates the lived experience of wholeness, the left hemisphere mediates its representation – it replaces experience with a model of experience, which then gets confused with and mistaken for the experience itself.”

This is surely a crucial confusion that lies at the heart of the modern project. Rather than living within the world and nature as an integral part of it (right hemisphere), we live in the world at second hand in the abstracted meaning (left hemisphere) that occurs to us following the experience. Having lost that direct connection with nature as it presences, we treat it as an external object to be exploited and dominated. Look around you – the evidence is before your eyes.

It happened in Europe from about the time following the Renaissance. And it was arguably a necessary development of humanity. Now however, it is becoming imperative to readjust the relationship, so that direct experience of nature has equal status with our abstractions, such as science, technology, economics, capitalism, materialism… Dominance by abstractions is leading us into a nightmare world.

The New Renaissance must involve reconnection with our essential nature, a balance between left and right hemispheres.

My post on Presence gives another perspective on that word.
Featured image by Allan Ajifo, via Wikimedia Commons.

Presence

Are you always all there? Maybe like me you’ve found yourself pondering some great question or problem as you drive along. You suddenly ‘wake up’ and realise you’ve been driving on autopilot for the last several miles, clearly in a sense not present, yet presumably driving perfectly safely.

There are in any case degrees of presence. You walk along similarly, pondering the mind’s current obsession, oblivious to whatever glorious surroundings you may be in. Something catches your attention; you examine it intently, fully aware of that object. You continue, looking at things around, all much of a muchness.

Then one day, perhaps in spring, you are more fully present. You see the buildings, particularly enjoying those that are more beautiful. You can see the quality of aliveness in the trees and vegetation around – and entirely deeper quality than that of the buildings. You see a different quality of aliveness in the animals and birds you encounter.

Another day you have had some special experience, perhaps an intense workshop, encounter, sunset, exceptional scenery, love experience. The world is alive and intense – a deeper quality than on every other day. It sings to you and you sing back. You are all one with it, fully present.

I get a sense of this on more ordinary days, when I remember to change the normal focus of the mind, pull back and become aware of all that is in peripheral vision. Suddenly the world is in full three dimensions, rather than the two dimensions offered by focused vision.

In personal encounter the ever-present challenge is to be present to the other person, particularly difficult with someone who is only present to themselves.

Presence has an inner dimension. Psychology tells us that as we become aware of, present to,  inner attachments and traumas we can begin to move beyond them.

Apparently irreconcilable problems can be resolved if all involved become truly present to the situation, moving beyond attachments and egoic concerns – attested to by the practice of Quakers over the centuries.

In a sense we can see life as a challenge to become more present. Are not the great sages and poets simply more present to the world and less concerned with all the everyday concerns and fripperies of life.

The current popularity of mindfulness and meditation are encouraging signs that, despite whatever is not working in the world, we are all increasingly becoming more present to each other and to our predicament. Only through increasing presence can we see beyond the polarities that are driving societies to destruction towards the solutions that will sustain a livable planet for all. Deeper presence is actually what we need.

May you all have good Christmas presence!

Featured image a sunset at Big Bend national park, Texas 2010