Not one to ruffle feathers when faced with an impasse, I often defer. Whether it be a dispute that needs settling, a step-aside when navigating a pedestrian-heavy sidewalk, or where to go for dinner — I yield to the other guy.
So when I first approached an all-way stop sign that was installed at a tricky three-way suburban intersection that I use almost daily, I imagined that I could be stuck there indefinitely as I allowed car after car after car to take the expected “me-first!” approach. There’s nothing telling the driver what to do after the stop. There are no instructions; no green light. Nothing but a sanguine reliance on the credo that we all learned in kindergarten: take turns.
It could easily serve as a place to take it to the street — put your bully on. There could be a competing hot-rod revving of engines. Or an in-your-grill inching across the white line into the middle of the intersection to muscle into first place. Instead I’m often a partner in a rhythmic dance of nods to go, and smiles to thank. It has become a crossroad of civility in this seemingly less than civil, fast-forward, “get-out-of-my-way!”detached world, where many people don’t like to look up anymore, much less stop what they’re doing.
I’ve yet to see a mess-up. No middle fingers, honking horns, or near-misses. There have been times when two of us have approached at the same time. (The law states that the car that gets to the stop sign first, regardless of what direction it is going, has the right of way.) When I see it coming, I approach slowly, and prepare to be usurped, or to imply with a smile and a nod — “you first.” More often than not, though, I get an implied (or a wave out the window) “no, please — you first.” A sense of camaraderie swells within; a communal let’s-not-take-this-moment-to-the-gutter! We all can get along.
So I have found my own little corner of courtesy in a most unlikely place — a three-way intersection, where we are all veiled in steel and glass and can easily put our feet down, and be pushy — anonymously. Instead, it’s become a place to slow down, take pause, smile, nod, and be magnanimous; cordial. A chance to defer to the other guy. Perhaps, when we are not told what to do, we want to do the right thing.