Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: social interaction

Why Slow Is Good, On The Road And Beyond

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, May 22, 2017. 

Every time I drive to Vancouver I get reminded of a few things. Firstly, that British Columbia is a beautiful place, no matter the season. Though the Coquihalla is a fast-driving corridor, it is hard to escape the views that crowd your gaze as you make your way up and down the mountains.

The second thing I get reminded of is some drivers’ habits on the road. I touched on this before: there’s something unsettling about being tailgated. When the tailgater is driving a semi the unsettling morphs into terrifying. There was a lot of tailgating this time. Perhaps the approaching long weekend made everyone’s patience levels taper to a thread, yet the immutable laws of life and death dictate that caution is a must when on the road.

Here’s another aspect that adds to the problem: speed limits. For many, they are a mere suggestion. They are not. Driving within the 120km/h speed limit allows an ambitious (or hurried) driver to make good time to the Coast. Yet driving the speed limit and seeing cars and trucks, including the occasional ones with large size campers attached, drive like some apocalyptic chariots of fire were following close behind… it’s disconcerting to say the least.

This one camper caught my eye, likely due to the crazy wobbling of the gigantic thing. It had two bikes hanging at the back, one with a child’s seat attached, plus a sticker that said ‘King on board’. It’s been a while since the ‘Baby on board’ were created, now there’s a flood of kings and princesses on board, which is a whole troubling issue in itself but that’s for another time to discuss.

The sign and the child bike seat told of a small child in the truck. The speed, unfortunately, spoke volumes of the disregard for life in general. Driving fast when you’re in a sports car is one thing (still dangerous). Driving fast as if you’re driving a sports car, but are instead behind the wheel of a big truck with a camper attached is crazy and irresponsible.

To be fair, I did see more police cars on the highway than ever before. Each busy with a speeder. Maybe the reason was, once again, the approaching long weekend. Either way, I choose to entertain the fantasy of seeing even more police cars on the road from now on. There’s no perfect solution to anything, speeding included, but it’d be a start.

Life is precious and speed is deceiving in offering the plump yet often deadly promise of making time for more life to unfold. Furthermore, someone’s fast driving puts other people’s lives in danger. It takes the fun out of driving, it really does. As for the time gained, I am not even sure that’s what people are after. Life forces us in the fast lane sometimes, yet truth is, more often than not it is but bad planning that makes us floor the acceleration pedal. Because it’s easy to overlook what we stand to lose.

Leaving the drama of possible life loss aside, there is another kind of loss: opportunity to let your gaze sink into the landscape, listen to feel-good music or an book on CD. On top of it all, if you’re driving with children, younger or older, there’s always the opportunity to model the kind of behaviour and attitude you want to see them display as they grow up. Considerate and aware of the beauty and surrounds them, as well as imbued with the sense of responsibility that all drivers should display when behind the wheel.

As for the third thing the drive reminds me of, that is gratefulness. For returning home to Kamloops. A growing city it is, but still a slower-paced place where you can opt for the same should you feel like it. It makes for better quality of life. It makes for seeing and being present. If you happen to do that, even occasionally, you know how much there is to see.

The Human Element Better Stay

Initially published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday October 30, 2015.

SignsLast Saturday was a lazy one with lots of snuggling and reading in bed with my youngest and a pancake breakfast that made our late morning both forgivable and pleasant.

Because of that, farmer’s market became a late affair. I visited my usual spots and filled my backpack with colours and crispness. All fall bounty in one heap, minus one preferred treat: watermelon radish. I am not sure if it is the intense fuchsia colour in the middle bordered by a layer of green on the outside that makes it appealing to my boys, but it was love at first sight and taste too. They ask for it every Saturday.

So I asked the smiling merchant about it. There had been a few but they’re all gone, she said. Sigh. Ah, missed! A guy who looked like her father or father-in-law got up from where he was sitting behind the table. ‘Here, take this!’. He handed me the last half of a watermelon radish that was saved in what looked like a lunch box.

‘Are you sure?’ They both smiled and said yes. Not much more I could do other than smile and say thank you. And another thank you as I left the market. The incident added some extra sparkling to the already bright morning I was immersed in.

Half a radish is no grand treasure but the gesture is priceless and adds to the warm feeling I associate with the market. A community is no community unless you know the people in it and the threads of your life braid with theirs as you go through life.

The human element that the farmer’s market is infused with is what makes me steer away from self-checkouts in big stores, and also opt, whenever possible, for the small local stores where smiles and a small chat are never too far. (Yes, a year-round farmer’s market would be a lovely local affair.)

The argument that we reduce waiting time by using checkout machines because they add speed and efficiency to our hurried lives does not persuade me in the least, just like self-driving cars not only don’t impress me but they actually make me shudder. The missing human element is something I cannot make peace with.

In the age of increased virtual ‘connections’ and automated devices that speed up life and unequivocally impart the conveyor belt feeling to so many of our activities, letting go of the human element might just be that one mistake we cannot afford to make, lest we should be stepping too far off the beaten path where familiarity comes from communicating with another human being and seeing other human beings around as we carry on with our day.

Also, as population increases, it would make sense to have not fewer but more jobs that even though they could be done by machines at the benefit of a few humans, they should be done by humans and benefiting more than just a few.

Having just learned that 50 percent of the world’s wealth belongs to a mere 1 percent of the world’s population (how is that for scary math?) maintaining the human element wherever we can becomes a must.

Creating jobs whenever possible and having them filled by people rather than machines can help fill the gaps that life often creates just because …life happens. When you are having an off day and nothing seems to do, it is often the unexpected smile from another human, a familiar face or not, that can brighten perspective and add a sliver of goodness.

There is no replacement for smiles, and no replacement for the human touch behind so many activities we perform throughout the day.

Which is why having more of each other’s presence makes life better. Well before human babies learn to talk, they are able to recognize and rejoice at seeing human faces.

As they grow, children need human interaction in order to develop harmoniously through the attachment bonds those interactions enable. Children learn best when human interaction is part of the learning process. No five-star computer program can replace a Saturday morning snuggle and read, just like no machine can wipe tears and hug us better, no matter how many positive reviews it has on Amazon.

No machine can ever inspire a human towards lofty goals or create the joy that an unexpected and much needed smile or kind word can bring. It is vital that we remember that.

It is only natural. We have been, are and will always be sentient beings who are complete – whether we admit it or not – by having relationships and by interacting with each other. The fact that we punctuate the important things in life by attaching faces to them and the fact that we need the human element is because life becomes meaningful when other humans are in it.

As for the cars that drive themselves, nothing can convince me that we need them. The last thing we need is to use our senses less. Being present where you are when you are there is not a chore but life itself, happening as we blink our way through it. And yes, a blink is all, so why not be there to live it fully?

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