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Friday Philosophy – Is The Problem The Small Things? August 7, 2020

Posted by mwidlake in ethics, Friday Philosophy, off-topic, rant, User Groups.
Tags: , ,

Something has been bothering me for a while. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s been depressing me. It’s you. Well, many of you.

Well, it’s not MY problem!

What do I mean? Well I’ll give you an example. A week or so ago I went out in the car to get some shopping. A few minutes into the journey, as I go around a gentle bend, I see there is a car coming towards me – on my side of the road. I had to brake to give it space to get back over and I see it has swerved to avoid a branch in the road. As you can see in the picture, it’s not a huge branch, it covers less than one lane. I’m past it now so I go on to the shops and get my stuff.

30 minutes later I’m coming back. And I’m thinking to myself “I bet that branch is still there.” And it is. I can see it from maybe 300 meters back. The two cars in front of me barely slow down and they swerve past it. An oncoming vehicle that *I* can see coming, let alone the two cars in front of me, has to slow down for the swervers like I did. That slight bend means you get a much better warning of the obstacle from the side of the road it is on and as it is on your side, it’s really your responsibility so slow or even briefly stop, but the people in front of me just went for it. They did not care.

I did not swerve. I slowed down. And I put on my hazard lights, and stopped about 20 meters back from the branch. I double checked that no car has appeared behind me and I got out the car. In 20 seconds (including taking the snap), I’ve moved the branch off the road with no danger at all and I’m back to my car.

I know, you would have done the same.

Only no. No, you would not have.

Some of you would like to think you would have stopped and moved the obstacle.

I suspect most of you would claim, if asked, that you would have stopped and moved the branch.

And of course all of you would have slowed to avoid inconveniencing others.

But reality shows that nearly all of you would not.

As I left the scene, I was wondering how many people would have passed that branch in that 30 minutes I knew for sure this small branch had been an obstacle on the road. I’m going to let people going the other way off, as they would have to do a u-turn to come back to it, so how many people would have had to swerve past it?I know that road well, it would have been hmm, 4 or 5 cars a minute going past in one direction – certainly more than 3 cars, less than 10. So well over a hundred drivers would have seen that branch from a distance, most would have been able to safely slow and stop – and yet not one of them had. I have no idea how long the branch had been there, it was not too beaten up so maybe not long, but it could have been a couple of hours. It was easy to avoid – especially if you swerved with little concern for any on-coming traffic…

It turns out I’m the one in a hundred.

Are you thinking “well, it’s not my job to move branches of a road!”

So who’s job is it? And if you could label it as someone’s job (let’s go for someone in the “highways agency”) how do they get to know it needs doing? I don’t know about you but I see dozens of highways agency maintenance people on every journey I do, just cruising around looking for things that need doing. {sarcasm}.

When was the last time you saw something that needed doing in a public place and took the time to think about who should be told, try to contact them, get told to contact someone else, find out it’s not their job but are asked to ring Dave, who you do ring and he says thanks (before making a note to think about it, whilst probably muttering “this is not my job, I’ve got major roadworks to look after”). Hell, it’s easier to stop and move the branch.

Generally in life, in so many situations, I am constantly wondering why someone has not done X (or has done Y). Why don’t you reach for the jar in the shop the old lady can’t quite reach? Why don’t you hold the door? Why did you drop that litter when the bin is JUST THERE! That person  in front of you buying a parking ticket can’t find 10p in their purse to make the correct change? You have loads of 10p pieces… some in your hand already.

This is what is depressing me. Even though nearly everyone likes to think they are the nice person who will do a little for the common good, the reality is that most people won’t when it comes to it – but most people think we all should, and you tell yourselves you do the little things. You are telling yourself now, aren’t you? You are trying to think of the little things you have done for the common good. If you can think of a half dozen in the last month then you really are one of the good guys/gals. If you can only come up with a few…and actually most of them were ages ago… well, sorry but you are the problem.

The strange thing is that, having just insulted you all, as a group you lot are much more likely to be in the 1% than normal. Even though out of the general public not even 1 in 100 people would put in a little effort to move that branch, out of the people reading this, I’d say 10% would. Because I spend a lot of time in the Oracle user community, packed with people who give up their time, knowledge, even their holidays, to speak at conferences, help organise meetings, answer on forums, write blogs, answer questions on twitter, and all that stuff. Many of you reading this are active members of the User Community doing not just small things but often large things for the community. That’s why the community works.

To the rest of you, instead of liking to think you would move the branch or claiming you would (as everyone wants to be thought of as the nice guy/gal) just occasionally move the branch. Or pick that piece of litter up. Or do something small that cost you so little but it just would be nice if someone did it.

No one will thank you.

But you will know you did it. And you are becoming no longer part of the problem but part of the solution. I’m not asking you to give 10% of your salary to charity or give up an important part of your life, just do a bit of the small stuff.

If more of us do it, we will have a better world. If someone had moved that branch soon after it fell, I would not have had to  avoid some swerving dickhead, and the person I saw later would have not had to avoid people who could not even be bothered to slow down or stop briefly. And, in the worst case, that needless accident need not have happened. It really is as simple as spending 1 minute moving a branch.

Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution. It’s really, really, really easy.




1. NormanDunbar - August 7, 2020

At the risk of being a smug b’stard….

I have stopped to clear obstacles from the road many times, including a live cow and a dead stag, a red deer, not one of the namby pamby fallow jobs! The cow was a right pain to shift!

I did that sort of thing many times in the past on two wheels and four. Dead deer on a blind summit and bend are dodgy things to hit at any speed on a bike!

I know exactly what you are saying.

My wife usually tells me it not my job, but she gets a Paddington Stare in return. If she is inconvenienced she’s the first to kick off about how “someone” should have sorted it out etc etc.

There too much selfishness around these days. I blame Thatcher. Other opinions are available. But they are wrong! 🙂


mwidlake - August 7, 2020

Good for you Norman. Thankfully, my wife is even more socially aware than I am. And that last bit about Thatcher? Made me laugh so hard. I totally agree, she was a terrible, terrible person.

Victor Torres - August 12, 2020

In my case my “wife” (well, no yet..) is the one always getting out of her way to pick up branches, litter or help lost souls in the neighbourhood… so I guess I’m a good person by proxy.. right?… 😛

2. Peter Robson - August 7, 2020

As bad as our Fantastic, Unbelievable, Incredible World-Beating Premier? A close run thing. (Where the hell did he learn to use all this stupid hyperbole?)

3. Bob - January 25, 2021

You’re not one in a hundred. You didn’t move the branch at the first instance – you were happy to go about your day as it wasn’t your problem. It was only after seeing it the second time you then decided to act – which is all well and good but it’s hardly a soap box to stand on given your previous decisions.

Now if you said to me, since that day whenever there’s a fallen branch you always move it at the first instance – then fair enough congratulations you really are one in a hundred, but this is a congratulatory pat on the back where you’ve also assumed the other 99 would not have moved it on their journey back also.

There’s many factors which would influence whether I stopped to move any obstacle – safety, time, my mood – to name a few – and each person would be doing something similar – but with their own values and thresholds. We all like to think we’re active bystanders in moments of need but the reality is, it’s fluid.

Take your exact scenario – on the way there you didn’t pick it up as ‘It was easy to avoid’ but on the way back ‘I would not have had to avoid some swerving dickhead, and the person I saw later would have not had to avoid people who could not even be bothered to slow down or stop briefly. And, in the worst case, that needless accident need not have happened’ – you being witness to the danger, caused you to then act.

You were aware of the danger it could pose the first time – but you didn’t act. You didn’t nip into town, attend a lecture on the dangers of branches in the road and on the return journey use your new-found knowledge. It was situational and had you had a clear run on the way back, I’d imagine you wouldn’t have stopped either.

I think the real message is:
If you are able to do good – you should do it, but don’t judge everyone because of their inaction – instead focus on praising those that do act.

mwidlake - January 25, 2021

Thanks for stopping by Bob and putting in so much effort to basically judge me, tell me I’m not really that nice a guy, I’m just giving myself a pat on the back…

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