Hell is other people?



I’ve been thinking about other people lately. Mostly because my neighbour is proving to be a dickhead, and it has reminded me of the times I’ve come up against other dickheads in my life. I’ve also come to the frightening conclusion that there are a hugely disproportionate number of dickheads out there.

When you’re a child, you live in a safe little family cocoon, insulated against the frustrations and horrors of the outside world. Your main concern is whether you’ll get to stay up past 8.30 at night, or whether you can complain just enough to get that bag of lollies, but not too much so it results in really pissing mum off. You get taught a set of rules, not only about how to behave at home with your family, but how to behave in the outside world with other people. And you learn—well, some people learn—the fine art of self-awareness and self-control. You learn to examine your own actions, and weigh them against your ideas of right and wrong. To do the right thing.

But as you get older, you start to realise that some people—a lot of people—somehow missed out on learning a lot of these rules.

Some of them are capable of the one thing I really fear, the mindless rage you cannot reason with. Twice in my life—and I’m not counting the occasional schoolyard bully—I’ve come up against it. Once, I was in a car that ran over a dog. The dog wasn’t on a leash and ran at full speed in front of the car; there was no way we could have avoided the collision. Of course we stopped, but the dog owner (a local drug dealer of no fixed address, we later discovered) completely freaked out, with the result that the next thing I knew I woke up in hospital with concussion. I still can’t remember exactly what happened.

Another time, in England, I drove out into a road in the countryside and, unbeknowst to me, in front of a fast driving car that had just come round a corner. The driver began swerving all over the road, obviously gripped by road rage. It looked to me that he was just trying to dangerously overtake, so when he did so, I gave him the finger. That was a mistake. The driver and passenger got so angry that the passenger was opening his door as they drove at high speed ahead of me, eventually cutting me off and forcing me and the car behind me to brake suddenly. They then got out of the car, ripped open my door and started pummelling me with blows.

You can’t reason with people like this. They could kill you—your life could end—because of their moment of stupid, unthinking rage. It happens all the time, all over the world. And in a thousand tiny ways, every day, people do stupid things because they have no manners, or don’t think about others, or allow the anger that is bottled up inside, possibly because of some totally unrelated frustration with their life, to explode violently.

We gather a group of like-minded, good people around us to protect us from the world. People who are kind. Friends and family. Sometimes it seems like we’re outnumbered by the stupid, the ignorant, the rude, the angry, the self-righteous, the blinkered, the un-self-aware.

There’s no way of changing this state of affairs, and sometimes I get angry and do stupid things too; but I also try to do little things to help. Smile at people behind counters. Always indicate when I’m driving. Walk quietly in my house at night. Make sure I’m not jumping ahead of someone in the queue. Warn the neighbours when I’m having a party. Park so I’m leaving enough space for the next car. Don’t let my ego dominate others. When I’m accused of doing something wrong, try to put myself in their shoes. Admit when I’m wrong.

We all have to think about other people, people.