I recently saw this cute post on facebook and it reminded me of when I lived in Prague for 15 years. I arrived shortly after the fall of Communism and had bought a big truck three years before my departure.
To give you a background, at 85% of the population, Czechs are the most atheistic of all countries. During WWII they had a strong line of defense already built against the Germans and were willing to fight tooth and nail to protect their beloved country, but their president at the time thought otherwise and promptly offered surrender.
As a result, the nation had preserved its remarkable and beautiful architecture from ransacking and bombardment, but its people had lost the spirit of nationalism and pride it once had. If you ask a Czech “How are you?”, you will often be responded, “You know how it is, it’s all going to shit.” Meant in the typical Czech’s cynical sense of humour, but a dominant perception nevertheless. In Prague you will often not find a smile or a laughter unless it is at the expense of someone else.
So in this environment I had first hit the road with the travel vehicle of my dreams. As one might expect, at every opportunity the Czech drivers would steal an open position in front of my slow moving, 3.5 tonne monster. It was annoying to say the least. But instead of letting it get to me, frustrating me in traffic like everyone else until I joined in their petty ways, I decided to fight fire with water.
I reasoned that my good deeds might spur others to think. If I was inching in slow moving traffic and saw that someone in a smaller cross lane was trying to enter traffic, I would purposefully slow down, blink my lights, politely show space with my hand and nod at them with a smile.
At first they would dart into traffic at the first opportunity, perhaps blink one of their signal lights in gratitude, but over time they would glide into my lane after nodding thanks first, and then blink gratitude for good measure.
After all, I reasoned that, once they were let into my lane, it might occur to them what little it cost me and how much I had helped them. Whenever I let someone in front of me, I noticed that someone else further up in traffic would veer off to one of the side lanes. So I remained in the same position. Or it only cost me one car length, which works out to only a few seconds once we finally make it to the open highway. But if everyone holds tight to the fender in front of them, the poor person trying to enter traffic might wait ten minutes or more before proceeding (which is precisely what I experienced most of the time).
I imagined that the person in front of me was pondering about this and how my small, kind act really helped them. And that they might return the favour to someone else in the future.
And I imagined that if only one in three people I had expressed this kind act to would return the favour to someone else, one in three of those might in turn express the same. And the more people that would ponder about this and return the favour to someone else, the more likely the kind act would snowball and take on a life of its own.
For three years I made an almost vindictive effort to express this kindness, always nodding my head politely and creating the room at every opportunity, and I swear, by the time I was ready to leave Prague three years later, a noticeable transformation had taken place. Every time I tried to enter traffic I’d have to wait an average of only three cars before someone would stop, flash their lights and politely show the room they made for me with a wave of their hand and a congenial nod.
This is an entire city, and maybe by now it has spread to the entire country. A snowball effect started by a little person like myself. It could not have been because of a free market economy alone, because why wouldn’t have this been the common practice 12 years after I had returned to the country? I watched the situation closely over those three years and saw the gradual change myself.
So take heart, my good friend, and think things through rather than jumping on the bandwagon of short-sitedness. You can make a difference!