Irritations and the Limits of Tolerance

My present work dictates the need to travel regularly around the UK. Some of my most interesting conversations have been those with taxi drivers. They range from incisive observations on politics and politicians, strong reasonable views on religion, to anger at the downward spiralling and breakdown of a variety of aspects related to propriety and community life. Many of the taxi-drivers I have journeyed with on my short trips from train station or airport to venues for meetings have been helpful, courteous, friendly and wise people. Sometimes, I think that the views they express on religion, politics and culture would do some of u a whole heap of good to listen to!

There are, however, a number of instances with taxis and taxi-drivers that have left me with much irritation. I find it irritating when taxis do all sorts of acrobatic bobbing and weaving through the traffic, rushing through pedestrian crossings and rarely wanting to give way to other vehicles. I know they make a living from it, but that is no excuse for being discourteous. It is also irritating when a booked taxi turns up, keep their car engine running, remain seated in their vehicle and expect you to open the boot of the vehicle to place your luggage in. Then after all that effort to get into the taxi and then having to help some of them find on the map where you want to get to – even though you have never been to the place before.

One recent example where my sense of tolerance was tested to its limit, happened on the way from a meeting to a railway station in a large city in Britain. Three of us joined a taxi we pre-booked. The greeting from the driver was more like a grunt. And while trying to fix a seat belt that was not properly “releasing” to hook up at the other end, I was shouted at to pull it gently. I felt like a schoolboy! Still it did not work and the driver continued his rudeness in shouting instructions my way. I eventually gave up. Upon reaching our destination, the rudeness continued as he demanded that we must have the exact fare, claiming he was not a cash machine (you would at least expect him to have change). By then my other colleagues were also much worked up; but the more patient one among us decided she was going to pay, and then proceeded to take out all her coins and leisurely started to count them, with us chipping in. Later she explained that the driver was so rude that she deliberately wanted to find the exact amount by taking as long as she could to do so. It later transpired that he was hoping we would not have been able to muster up the exact amount and would leave him a full ten pounds (when the fare was only metered for £6.30. We agreed that this was the rudest taxi driver we have ever met – a total let down in comparison to the other wonderful ones we have met!

The incident got me thinking about the many other instances of recent when I got irritated. These seem to be increasing! For instance, it is irritating to purchase an espresso coffee at a train station and then having your drink poured in a large coffee cup, struggling to down it with your whole face in the cup and head flipped all the way back as If you are either in a pub or trying to swallow the paper cup! The other irritating thing is usually at some supermarket checkouts: being rushed through to get your purchases in your rucksack and then after paying, either having your card or change piled up together and handed back to you, with no time to sort anything out, before the purchases of others push you off the checkout point? Why can’t I be handed my card/change first and then my receipt. And why can’t some supermarkets give their cashiers basic guidelines about the importance of the customer!

The list of my irritations is quite long and may be pointing more to my impatience, shortcomings, and unrealistic expectations. Thank God, for grace! I cannot help wondering, however, why we easily accept behaviours that diminish our sense of humanness and what it means to be people in community. Or why are we so hestiant to even to name some of unhelpful behaviours and discourteous practices around us? What should I do with my commitment to respect, tolerance and values when these irritations keep piling up day after day? Should I stop buying espresso coffee from these shops,? Should I stop travelling with such taxi-drivers (as noted above)? Should I find supermarkets where the customer calls the shot? Or should I just stop moaning, take all the crap and get on with life? And if I wish, how and where do I express my views in a way that will not smack of arrogance and intolerance?

Just-living, morality and the common good – are all pushing us to agree that there must be some core vision or values to help us operate with civility and in constructive ways. What I perceive from my irritations may be more than personal. There is something larger – a moral vacuum – only partially reflected in some of these small irritations. Something is wrong with us! Perhaps, there is a need to re-discover the habit of generous magnanimity that will move beyond being tolerant, that is, tolerance that is only about putting up with each other. Tolerance is not a private matter: it should part and parcel of our public lives. There is a need for us to challenge each other in an effort to live core values that put people, relationships and the common good first -over our selfish proclivities!

© copyright jagessar February 27, 2010

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