We’re a Bunch of Neanderthals

Intending no offense to Neanderthals. Image: Action Press/Rex Features
As drivers, we become a bunch of Neanderthals grunting at each other in the dark.

This occurred to me this morning as I eyed the pick-up truck in the lane next to me as it edged forward while we were waiting at a light. It looked like he was thinking of changing lanes, and I was pretty sure I was in his blind spot. I couldn’t make eye contact. My voice wouldn’t carry into the cab of his truck. If he moved toward me, the only way for me to avoid a collision would have been to honk.

In that moment millennia of linguistic development and body language melt away, replaced with a blaring horn. No wonder we don’t like each other anymore.

I have to wonder how much this affects our negative view of civil society today – when we spend so much time in our cars, and most of our interactions with each other involve growls and imagined slights.

In Egypt, driving is something else entirely – in many ways! But one of them is the level of communication that happens from within vehicles. This can only happen at slow speeds, but there is a great deal of leaning out of the car, talking to other drivers, making eye contact with others and waving them on. It’s normal to see the passenger in a vehicle leaning out of the window and waving his arms at the driver of the next vehicle over when the car he’s in is trying to change lanes. There’s a hand signal for “slow down,” which I’ve many times over wished would translate. In Japan, if someone lets you merge in front of them, you turn your hazards on for a few blinks to say “thank you.”

What can we do to distance ourselves from our caveman ways? I’m resolving to make as much eye contact as possible, to smile, and to give other drivers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I’ll give the driver with the blinker space to merge in front of me.

Maybe I’ll print out this photo and paste it on my dashboard as a reminder of what I don’t want to be. No offense to Neanderthals.

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