Seven Life Lessons from India’s Hazardous Traffic Chaos -How We Manage?
Depending on the person, driving or riding a vehicle on Indian roads is fun, exciting or a nightmare. Some have called this dense, crowded traffic as hazardous, unorganized chaos — a Brownian motion?
It is not easy to drive among Lorries, Buses, Autos, Bikes, Bicycles, Animals and Humans.
- Some people who signal while taking turns are letting us know that he or she would not wait for our response(we better dare not to hit them).
- The constant haggling of the vendors at the junction — the hot, humid climate -the heat along with exhaust from Car Ac vents on an afternoon — people’s temper on a hot day with a clogged traffic — Lorries with protruding bars letting us to know how a real 3d Movie should feel — Bikes with cargo having width of a car — other hazardous cargo transports — Borderless signals(in fact, signals are potential accident zones than any other place).
- The ‘3 wheeler Auto’ paradox, who speeds up in narrow lanes, drives with sharper turns in crowded lanes, drives slow in fast lanes, stop and start suddenly without their own knowledge — The leaning buses that defy gravity — College buses who are giant Ferraris — Empty lorries vying for a two-wheeler space — Buses that fight like plants in blocking others so that it could get more sunlight — Pavements making sure that we keep encountering bikes and the list of challenges would keep going on.
How do we manage this?
- We drive like how a snake would move (serpentine motion in some cases, sidewinding motion, Concertina motion in other cases)
- Sometimes jump like a hare over the potholes
- Brake like a horse that has a broken leg
- We have developed eyes of Rabbit which could help us see nearly 360 degrees
- Constant pressing of the clutch, brake -We have hands and feet that could outrun any mechanical part in fatigue testing
- Our minds work like an Octopus -we quickly simulate and understand whether our car body or Bike would go into the small gap without scratching any of the surfaces
- Who needs body language, voice or facial expressions to communicate — We communicate by moving our vehicle like how bees communicate moving their bodies
- Are you surprised by seeing how ants move in the opposite direction without hitting each other, then watch how we criss-cross in vehicles at traffic junctions -We are better than ants.
- Whenever a road gets clogged by traffic, we could discover an alternative route quicker than an ant -Google Maps stand no chance.
- There’s so much randomness in Indian Roads- Many bikers, drivers have special rights to cut abruptly into our lane without any signals -They can start and stop suddenly wherever they wish -Some of our countrymen would suddenly cross the road testing the limit of our reaction time -All these randomnesses have improved our ability to see, hear or feel the stimulus with certainty in a short time as it is essential for quicker response. Our motor skills also have become more agile in order to respond to this randomness -Do you think that we have better reflex action than Copepod to manage the randomness?.
- We are resilient like Tardigrade in adapting to complex situations like clogged roads due to rain, inundated roads, narrow lanes, hot humid climate, sudden processions — Who said we are just humans? When we drive on our Indian roads — we are more powerful than normal human beings.
One of the main reason why Indians could manage this traffic is that the people are predominantly tolerant or forced to be tolerant. They have grown up in a system where it is rare to expect perfection. They understand the limitations of a system which helped them to have lower expectations, look at impediments as obstacles to be worked around, made them be independent to find a way to solve their own problems. The culture has taught them self-awareness, empathy, impulse control and hope.
Ok. Let’s be serious. What life lessons could we learn from driving daily in this chaotic traffic?
TEACH OR LEARN
Nobody teaches us in detail on how to drive or ride on Indian roads, except few basics. Most of us learn on our own. The environment has naturally created “Learnable Moments” than “Teachable Moments”
If we need to teach a user how to use the product, then it is a ‘Bad Design’, but if the design is in such a way that user could learn on his own on how to use the product, then it is a good design.
Don’t design environments for teaching, but design environments for learning.
In life, if we want to change somebody, or inculcate a new habit, change the environment, make it learnable.
TALENT OR EFFORT
In any work, any field, any sport, anything — People start arguing whether this guy is naturally talented or not for that corresponding field. The only field where people would not judge you by talent is ‘driving on our Indian roads’. Most of us manage to drive home safely every day. ‘No judgment’ means ‘No pressure’ -No biased encouragement/discussions based on the talents. That was one reason why almost everyone could drive or ride.
Some of us are obsessed with “What you are born with” than “What you could do”.
In real life, in our professional fields, people judge each other according to their version of ‘talent’ definition, which is a subjective one based on their own world of knowledge and experience. As they label somebody as not so talented, then the thought enters his or her mind like a poison and affects the performance which would further validate the judgement. If they label somebody is talented, then he or she is expected to put lesser effort to do things, thereby pressurizing him or her not to work hard.
Driving inside an Indian city is not the easiest task, requires a good amount of physical skills, cognitive skills, reflex-ability, decision making, people skills, observability — most of us subconsciously have overcome all those challenges.
If you do not listen to other’s judgment of you, you can overcome any other challenges in life.
All human individuals possess various potentials, but fail to use as they are not aware of them. We generally utilize many of those potentials below their optimum levels. Only a few individuals explore upto its maximum level.
Actor Will Smith, in one of the interviews, “I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented. You might be more talented than me, smarter than me, sexier than me, but if we got on the treadmill together, I am not getting down till I die. I would work hard, harder”.
Every day, the challenges in our Indian roads exhaust us — we could see how people come home fatigued, tired, jaded after driving for a couple of hours in those peak hours — but most of us wake up the next day, get ready to go driving/riding again — like how we get on the treadmill again — not for one or two days, but for months, years. Can anything else teach us grit better than this? Can we get any other easier opportunity to practice Grit than this?
Grittier people can succeed in life. Only thing, you need to bring the same grittiness in your professional life too.
Carol Dweck, a researcher talks about two mindsets — Fixed Mindset(Where we believe our abilities, talent, intelligence are fixed traits and cannot be changed) and Growth Mindset(Where we believe that our abilities, intelligence, talents can be changed through effort). To be successful in life, we need to develop a ‘Growth Mindset’.
Riding bikes or Cars on Indian roads is not an easier skill but most of us believe that we could learn through effort. Can the same thing be told about our mindset in other fields?
To have a growth mindset, we need to believe that situations are under our control. I agree that some situations(maybe 10% of situations) are out of our control, but how we react to those situations are under our control.
“You control the day or the day controls you”- from the movie ‘Kung Fu Panda’
While driving, we believe that we are in control of the situations and we are not afraid to move forward. To be frank, we are at the mercy of other fellow drivers(we have the least control of the situation). Research shows that only 41% of drivers have taken the driving test — A scary news. Think about it — While overtaking, there are probabilities that other vehicle could come in front of us suddenly or the other vehicle could speed up jamming us between another vehicle. While crossing the signals — there are unforeseen possibilities of accidents. We would have witnessed accidents, but we might not be afraid of the likeliness happening to us — The reason — we feel that the probability of accidents happening to us is minimal. If it happens, we find a way to react positively.
Similarly, in our real life, we keep worrying about a lot of dreaded things which we fear would happen to us or nearby ones, though the probability of those things happening is minimal, yet fear rules and affect our thinking.
At times, We may have no control of occurence of unforseen situation, but we do have a choice of how we react, how we experience and how long we feel about the situation.
Of all the negative emotions, Anger is the most menacing emotion and most of us are worst at controlling the same. Anger energizes our body, increases exhilaration, escalates body’s psychological arousal. One of the major universal triggers for anger is ‘Endangerment’. While driving on Indian roads, you are sure going to face this ‘Endangerment’ — the reason why road rages happen.
When your life or family’s life is endangered by another driver, you would get angry without you being aware of the ‘anger’ emotion. Another perilous thing is “Anger builds on Anger”. When you are already angry- you get down, starts arguing with the guy who hit your car — the obscene, dreaded language used by that guy would make you further angry — another person behind your vehicle honks — the anger further builds up — Sequence of provocations trigger additional reaction — the knuckles tighten, body gets ready to fight, the emotional mind taking control of your body without you being aware of it — you would be ready to explode.
While driving on Indian roads, we would have faced similar situations as mentioned above, may be of smaller magnitude — So, most of us would be aware that anger rarely helped in those situations — it actually worsened the situations, spoiled our mood, our work, blocking our mind not to think of anything else. The widespread view is that most of the Indian drivers are incredibly calm, though there are many near misses — No screaming, fists plunging, anxiety — Just most of us ‘Keep Calm’ and move on. Every now and then, somebody will break your rear view mirror — But, Most of us would just stare at the offender and move on.
How we manage anger? We have learnt to reframe the situation — COGNITIVE REFRAMING — Contrast the thoughts behind anger with another thought — Maybe, the offender had a medical emergency, or he had grown up in a different environment, may not be aware of the situation here or maybe somebody had jumped in front of him or his vehicle had developed a sudden snag — it could be anything.
We subconsciously learned to ‘Reframe the ‘problem with the people’ to ‘Problem with the situation’. When we shift the problem from people to a situation, we no longer feel angry at the guy. It is one of widely used technique in anger management and you could use in your daily professional life.
Another technique used by many of us — IGNORE and DISTRACT—How many times we have ignored the accident situation and moved on? How we found a way to cool down or seek out any distractions?. In road incidents, even if you are polite, the other guy would be doing things to make us angrier — he might not have the patience to listen to us — Shouting back at him would arouse our emotional mind, prolonging the anger. The best way would be to ignore him and move away to another place so that we could distract our mind to something else and avoid build-up of anger.
Do we follow these steps in our real life while facing situations that could trigger anger?
Rains, political meet, religious functions, public bus breakdowns have caused unexpected traffic snarls — You cannot predict what would be the reason for a sudden traffic jam — Everyone of us would have tales of how unproductive our time was spent. For some of us, wasting time is intolerable — we cannot tolerate people who are not fast enough to finish the tasks — we would feel agitated and get angry. Do we feel restless, agitated when we get stuck in traffic? Rarely, we get agitated. Why? Because we subconsciously believe that the problem is with the situation and not with the people. Nothing going to happen by becoming restless, impatient. A learnable moment for Patience.
When we are new to driving, we would focus on each and every detail, feeling a bit edgy, our senses on being alert — but as time goes, as we keep driving frequently, we become less conscious of our driving. Over a period of time, you could talk with others or could keep your mind occupied with some other thought while driving. It becomes a habit through practice, as our subconscious mind controls the driving and our rational mind has become free to think something else. If you rewind how you developed the driving habit, how you slowly progressed from low skilled to efficiently skilled, how you invested time, how did you grow interested by slowly increasing your challenges — you could understand how habits form and this strategy could be used in developing other habits. Do you want to get up early every day? Do you want to exercise every day?
If you could convert some of your tasks/activities as a habit, you could optimise your mental/physical resources.
There might be few positives from our present traffic system, but there are overwhelming negatives. The number of accidents is mind-boggling. It is sad to see the loss of lives, broken lively hood, people with life-threatening injuries, chaos. Blaming users for a product’s failure is not the solution. A product or service has to elevate the life of the user. I sincerely hope that our traffic system changes for the best and uplift each and every citizen’s life.
References: GRIT by Angela Duckworth, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Mindset by Dr.Carol S.Dweck.