Jack Emberly.

Along the Fraser: It’s time to revisit manners

I’m driving west on Lougheed Highway towards Harris Road in Pitt Meadows, checking mirrors for vehicles closing in quickly, even though ...

“Slow drivers camping out in the left lane not only cause frustration for other drivers, they cause accidents.” – Transportation Minister, Todd Stone.

 

I’m driving west on Lougheed Highway towards Harris Road in Pitt Meadows, checking mirrors for vehicles closing in quickly, even though I’m going the posted 80 km/h.

Traffic moves too quickly here.

Is the voluntary practice of good manners more effective than laws in maintaining a civil society?

Not everyone holds a door open for you, but those who do, encourage you to repeat the process.

In her book, Why Manners Matters, Lucinda Holdforth quotes Thomas Jefferson to make the point: “A degeneracy in manners is a canker which soon eats to the heart of a republic’s laws and constitution.”

Without manners we become vulnerable to the imposition of more legislation, says Holdworth.

Slow drivers who block the left lane test the patience of modern society in a hurry, often to get nowhere important.

But were their numbers increasing, or just the volume of traffic?

Might signs encouraging manners have made a difference?

It did, says Holdworth, in France.

Focusing on legal penalties weakens the infrastructure of manners, and the influence of reason on road hogs and tail gaiting bullies who may quote laws to support dangerous driving.

Holdworth quotes Thomas Payne’s Common Sense.

“Governments, far from being the cause or means of order, are often the destruction of it.”

I want to turn south at Harris Road, but it’s hard to enter the left lane because of cars quickly coming up behind me. The right lane is clogged.

If I merge left too soon, another irate motorist will sit on my bumper. I’m camping out in his legal right of way. Case closed.

It’s the reason drivers crowd into the right lane and leave the left one clear, even when using both would reduce the dreaded congestion we encounter any time of day now.

There are common sense exceptions to staying out of the passing lane, but Payne didn’t write them.

Stone says, “You can be in the left lane to prepare for a left turn.”

I am, but maybe a police officer won’t agree, and I don’t think the guy in the pick-up heard me. He swerves into the right lane to get around me, deeks back in front of me, pauses to make sure I note his upturned finger, then zooms ahead.

In the distance, he finds the open road  –in the HOV lane.

If he kills someone down the road, will lawyers argue speeding and frustration are norms excused by motorists camping in the left?

Is the norm of chaos far behind?

Holdforth says we must all exercise manners if we wish to be governed by ourselves. No one wants to live in a society where no one opens doors for you, uses turn signals, lets you merge in rush hour traffic, or stays out of the HOV unless he sees a police car.

We must all exercise manners, says Holdforth, who quotes Edmund Burke: “Manners provide a form of social self-limitation, a means by which citizens signal their willingness to live together and to abide by common standards.”

“But how often is the natural propensity to society disturbed or destroyed by the operations of government,” said Jefferson.

It’s time to revisit manners before we forget why we invented them in the first place.

 

– Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

 

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