Monday, 7 October 2019

The Rule of the Road

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                           The Rule of the Road 






The Rule of The Road

[A.G. Gardiner (1855-1946) wrote his essays under the pen name of Alpha. His essays remind us of ‘pleasant things, sunshine and mirth, laughter and peace’. They are, in fact, a commentary on the Art of living. The Rule of the Road discusses the important issue of rights and responsibilities in social life. The rights of one individual end where the rights of another begin. The writer has brought this point through some interesting anecdotes.]
That was a jolly story which Mr. Arthur Ransome told the other day in one of his messages from Petrograd. A stout old lady was walking with her basket down the middle of a street in Petrograd to the great confusion of the traffic and with no small peril to herself. It was pointed out to her that the pavement was the place for foot passengers, but she replied: ‘I’m going to walk where I like. We’ve got liberty now.’ It did not occur to the dear old lady that if liberty entitled the foot passenger to walk down the middle of a road, it also entitled the car driver to drive on the pavement, and that the end of such liberty would be universal chaos. Everybody would be getting in everybody else’s way and nobody would get anywhere. Individual liberty would have become social anarchy. There is a danger of the world getting liberty-drunk in these days like the old lady with the basket, and it is just as well to remind ourselves of what the rule of the road means. It means hat in order that the liberties of all may be preserved, the liberties of everybody must be curtailed. When the policeman, say at Picadilly Circus, steps into the middle of the road and puts out his  hand, he is the symbol not of tyranny, but of liberty. You may not think so. You may, being in a hurry and seeing your motor car pulled up by this insolence of office, feel that your liberty has been outraged. How dare this fellow interfere with your free use of the public highway? Then, if you are a reasonable person, you will reflect that if he did not, incidentally, interfere with you he would interfere with no one, and the result would be that Piccadilly Circus would be a maelstrom that you would never cross at all. You have submitted to a curtailment of private liberty in order that you may enjoy a social order which makes your liberty a reality. Liberty is not a personal affair only, but a social contract. It is an accommodation of interests. In matters which do not touch anybody else’s liberty, of course, I may be as free as I like. If I choose to go down the Strand in a dressing-gown with long hair and bare feet, who shall raise an objection? You have liberty to laugh at me, but I have liberty to be indifferent to you. And if I have a fancy for dyeing my hair, or waxing my moustache or wearing a tall hat, a frock-coat and sandals, or going to bed late or getting up early, I shall follow my fancy and ask no man’s permission. In all these and a thousand other details you and I please ourselves and ask no one’s leave. We have a whole kingdom in which we rule alone, can do what we choose, be wise or ridiculous, harsh or easy, conventional or odd. But directly we step out of that kingdom, our personal liberty of action becomes qualified by other people’s liberty. I might like to practise on the guitar from midnight till three in the morning. If I went on to the top of a hill to do it, I could please myself, but if I do it out in the streets, the neighbours will remind me that my liberty to play on a guitar must not interfere with their liberty to sleep in quiet. There are a lot of people in the world, and I have to accommodate my liberty to their liberties. We are all liable to forget this and, unfortunately, we are much more conscious of the imperfections of others in this respect than of our own. I got into a railway carriage at a country station the other morning and settled down for what the school-boys would call an hour’s ‘swot’ at a Blue-book. I was not reading it for pleasure. The truth is that I never do read Blue-books for pleasure. I read them as a lawyer reads a brief, for the very humble purpose of turning an honest penny out of them. Now, if you are reading a book for pleasure it doesn’t matter what is going on around you. I think I could enjoy a really good novel even in the midst of an earthquake. But when you are reading a thing as a task, you need reasonable quiet, and that is what I didn’t get, for at the next station in came a couple of men, one of whom, talked to his friend for the rest of the journey in a loud and pompous voice on any and every subject under the sun. If I had asked him to be good enough to talk in a lower tone, I daresay he would have thought I was a very rude fellow. It did not occur to him that anybody could have anything better to do than to listen to him, and I have no doubt he left the carriage convinced that everybody in it had, thanks to him, had a very illuminating journey, and would carry away a pleasing impression of his great knowledge. He was obviously a well-intentioned person. The thing that was wrong with him was that he had not the social sense. He was not ‘a clubbable man’. A reasonable consideration for the rights or feelings of others is the foundation of social conduct. Let us take the guitar as an illustration again. A man who wants to learn to play on it is entitled to learn it in his own house, even though he is a nuisance to his neighbours, but it is his business to make the nuisance as slight as possible. He must practise in the attic and shut the window. He has no right to sit in his front room, open the window, and blow his noise into his neighbours’ ears with the maximum of violence. You are interfering with the liberties of your neighbours if you don’t do what you can to limit the noise to your own household. Your neighbours may prefer to have their Sunday afternoon undisturbed, and it is as great an impertinence for you to wilfully trespass on their peace as it would be to go, unasked, into their gardens and trample on their flower beds. There are cases, of course, where the clash of liberties seems to defy compromise. My dear old friend X, who lives in West End Square and who is an amazing mixture of good nature and irascibility, flies into a passion when he hears a street piano, and rushes out to order it away. But nearby lives a distinguished lady of romantic picaresque tastes, who dotes on street pianos, and attracts them as wasps are attracted to a jar of jam. Whose liberty in this case should surrender to the other? For the like of me, I cannot say. It is as reasonable to like street pianos as to dislike them and vice versa. I would give much to hear Sancho Panza’s1 solution of such a nice riddle. I suppose the fact is that we can be neither complete anarchists nor complete socialists in this complex world. We must be a judicious mixture of both. We have both liberties to preserve our individual liberty and our social liberty. I shall not permit any authority to say that my child must go to this school or that, shall specialize in science or arts, shall play cricket or soccer. These things are personal. But if I proceed to say that my child shall have no education at all, that he shall be brought up as a primeval savage, or at Mr. Fagins’ academy for pickpockets, then society will politely but firmly tell me that it has no use for primeval savages
and a very stern objection to pickpockets, and that my child must have a certain minimum of education whether I like it or not. I cannot have the liberty to be nuisance to my neighbours or make my child a burden and a danger to the commonwealth. It is in the small matters of conduct, in the obsevance of 1a character in Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote the rule of the road, that we pass judgment upon ourselves, and declare that we are civilized or uncivilized. The great moments of heroism and sacrifice are rare. It is the little habits of commonplace intercourse that make up the great sum of life and sweeten or make bitter the journey. I hope my friend in the railway carriage will reflect on this.


Glossary:
Universal chaos (n): total disorder If we talk of rights and ignore our duties it would create
a universal chaos.

peril (n) : danger Her life in that hostile house is in great peril.

jolly (adj) : funny, very interesting, happy and cheerful All of the boys were in a jolly and relaxed mood at the party.

anarchy (n) : a state of lawlessness and disorder (usually resulting from a failure of government ) We witnessed a state of complete anarchy in our country at the time of partition.

curtail (v) : to reduce, cut short We want to curtail the total monthly expenditure of our family.

tyranny (n) : unfair and strict control over someone He wished to escape from the tyranny of his step-father.

insolent (adj) : rude and showing no respect His son is not only naughty but insolent too.

swot (v) : to study a lot in a short time as before an exam I was busy swotting for my Civics examination.

pompous (adj) : trying to make people think you are very important, self important, foolishly serious and grand Our boss gave a pompous speech in the party. Nobody likes your pompous ways.

swagger (n) : bully, frighten with threats or domineering manner. He appeared to be a man of immense swagger.

banal (adj) : ordinary and not interesting It was a banal write-up.

irascibility (n) : rudeness, an angry temper His irascibility is the cause of his frequent quarrels with his wife.

dote on (v) : love or like excessively The new principal has no hold on the situation because he is doting on some sycophants and flatterers only.

trespass (v) : to go into someone’s private land without permission It was written on the board : ‘Trespassing is prohibited’.

savage (adj) : very cruel and violent The punishment given to John seemed a little too savage.

primeval savage (n) : an uncivilized brute belonging to the earliest ages. Man has evolved a long way from a primeval savage to\ become the master of universe.

nuisance (n) : problem, something that causes annoyance I cannot tolerate this nuisance of a dog in the house.

judicious (adj) : intelligent, wise His judicious handling of the case saved the situation from getting worse.



1. Because she thought she was free to walk anywhere.
2. She thought she was free to walk anywhere.
3. He symbolizes freedom.
4. No, we cannot do whatever we feel like doing.
5. He was reading a ‘Blue-book’ during the journey.
6. Because he was reading a ‘Blue Book’.
7. The person who talked much disturbed the writer.
8. He was talking randomly on many subjects.
9. Thinking about the rights of others is the basis of social contract.
10. The writer means that we must be a judicious mixture of anarchism and socialism.



































Liberty is not a personal affair only, but a social Contract. It is an ‘accommodation of interests’. In matters which do not touch anybody else’s liberty, of course, I may be as free as I like.
Now what does ‘accommodation of interests mean’?
It means making slight changes of sacrifices to suit other people.







In all these and a thousand other details you and I please ourselves and ask no one’s leave. We have a whole kingdom in which we rule alone, can do what we choose, be wise or

Whole kingdom in which we rule alone, can do what we choose, be wise or ridiculous, harsh or easy, conventional or odd.
But we directly step out of that kingdom, our personal liberty of action becomes qualified by other people’s liberty.


In all these and a thousand other details you and I please ourselves and ask no one’s leave. We have a whole kingdom in which we rule alone, can do what we choose, be wise or ridiculous, harsh or easy, conventional or odd.
Whole kingdom in which we rule alone, can do what we choose, be wise or ridiculous, harsh or easy, conventional or odd.











I got into a railway carriage at a country carriage at a country station the other morning and started reading a Blue-Book. I was not reading it for pleasure. The truth is that I never do read Blue-Books for pleasure.


I read them as a barrister reads a brief for the very humble purpose of turning an honest penny out of them.


Now, if you are reading a book for pleasure it doesn’t matter what is going on around you. I think I could enjoy a really good novel even in the midst of an earthquake.


But when you are reading a thing as a task, you need reasonable quiet and that is what I didn’t get for at the next station.


In came a couple of men, one of whom talked to his friend for the rest of the journey in a loud and pompous voice on any and every topic under the sun.


If I had asked him to be good enough to talk in a lower tone, I dare say he would have thought, I was a very rude fellow.


It did not occur to him that anybody could have anything better to do than to listen to him, and I have no doubt he left the carriage convinced that everybody in it had, thanks to him, had a very illuminating journey, and would carry away a pleasing impression of his great knowledge.


He was obviously a well-intentioned person. The thing that was wrong with him was that he had not the social sense. He was not ‘a clubbable man’.

































I shall not permit any authority to say that my child must go to this school or that, shall specialize in science or arts, shall play cricket or soccer. These things are personal.


But if proceed to say that my child shall have no education at all, that he shall be brought up as a primeval savage, or at Mr. Fagin’s, academy for pick pockets, than society will politely but firmly tell me that it has no use for primeval savages and a very stern objection to pickpockets and that my child shall have a certain minimum of education whether I like it or not.



I cannot have the liberty to be nuisance to my neighbours or make my child a burden and a danger to commonwealth. It is the small matters of conduct, in the observance of the rule of the road, that we pass this judgment upon ourselves, and declare that we are civilized or uncivilized.


The great moments of heroism and sacrifice are rare. It is the little habits of commonplace intercourse that make up the great sum of life and sweeten or make bitter the journey. I hope my friend in the railway carriage will reflect on this.