Backstory to: “Don’t Let Perceived Rules Trigger Conditioned Nonsense”

Backstory #18 – Reading time: about 2.8 minutes (excluding the original post below)


Many years ago, I was out driving with a girlfriend. As we approached an intersection, she asked, “What’s that thing standing on the left?” (American readers should note that if we had been driving in the USA that “thing” would have been on the right.)

I looked at her, amazed, and made a silent vow not to be in the passenger seat when she is in the driver’s seat. Admittedly, we were still some distance from the intersection. But I would feel much safer if the driver, any driver, could identify a rapidly approaching stop sign.

And thus the problem: the speed at which we approached the intersection. I was driving below the speed limit, but apparently too fast for my passenger to register critical visual clues.

Now fast forward several years. I am driving along a busy main road in a city in the USA. This was my first time driving on a road cluttered with billboards, shop signs, sidewalks spiked with notices for yard sales, house sales, and other FYIs. Not to mention the many traffic lights and other sudden intersections. And then there were the cars. Too many. All of them driving on the “wrong” side of the road and moving at a speed I felt was way too high for my safety.

Now picture the same road at night with uncountable numbers of flashing neon signs adding to the daytime visual overload. And no overhead roadside lights to color in the stationary and moving silhouettes. Next, add some rain to wash away all road markings and to scatter minute prisms of rainbow colors over my fogged-up windscreen.

What would you do? Act like you belong, that you are not an alien, by keeping up with the fast moving throng? Or ignore the honks and flashing high beams as best you can as you slow down drastically to process the information overload?

I come from a country where the expression “adapt or die” became a popular anti-apartheid slogan. That was during the 1980s and the expression has served me well as I have tried to keep pace with life on our spinning blue dot.

As it did once again in 2002 in Atlanta, Georgia. Through sheer ignorance and bad timing, I entered evening rush hour traffic. This was only a few months after my arrival in the USA, still unsure which side of the road was “right.” My immigration attorney had warned me to obey all laws. Which is why I was driving at a well-behaved 55 miles per hour on a six-lane freeway when my inclination was to drive at 100 kilometers per hour.

I noticed cars were speeding past me. I ignored them. They had five other lanes to race in. But I could not comfortably ignore the car nudging my rear fender (bumper?). And the car behind him. And the next one. As far back as my mirror could reflect. I felt pressed to speed up.

When I matched the speed of the cars in the other lanes, the drivers behind me seemed to relax. I checked the speedometer. One Hundred and twenty-eight kilometers per hour… I mean, 80 miles per hour in rush hour traffic! In a 55 mph speed zone!

Another first for me. Welcome to America. Adapt or die.


Here is the original post:

Don’t Let Perceived Rules Trigger Conditioned Nonsense

Reading time: about 0.8 minutes

Do you drive at the same speed at night as you do during the day? You do, don’t you? Even though we cannot see clearly at night, we drive as if we are speeding in sunshine.

Now consider this. When you walk outside in the dark, do you walk as fast and as confidently as you do during daylight? I doubt it. To be sure, you walk in a manner much more aware of your surroundings.

Why don’t you slow down when you drive at night? Here’s why. Because the posted speed signs tell you not to.

Even though the signs post the maximum speed, they hint at the speed you should aim for, day or night.

And so it is in many areas of life. Conditioned, we stick to perceived rules even as situations change.

Then we wonder why nonsense happens to us.

Welcome to my side of the nonsense divide.