Sometimes it's better to be second
Let me tell you two stories that make one point.
In a certain place in Africa, there is a road that runs north to south. At the bottom of a steep valley is a river. At the river the road narrows into one lane. The bridge over the river is only one car wide.
One day a farmer was driving the north-bound road. He arrived at the bridge at the same time as another farmer who had come from the opposite direction.
Both thought they could get there first and beat the other to the crossing. Both were in their pick-up trucks. Both screeched to a halt within inches of each other in the middle of the bridge.
I will return to the end of the story later. For now, let me tell you story number two, about what I saw in a restaurant recently.
Story number two happened in a fast food joint that I was in. The lunchtime rush was on. Things were busy. Tables were scarce.
A man walked in with his two daughters. The children skipped into the restaurant each holding one of their father's hands.
There was one remaining table. They spotted it and gratefully occupied it, smiling at their fortune. They dumped their bag on the table and then collectively took their place in the ordering queue.
I hasten to add that almost immediately after them three girls entered, a few steps behind. They saw the father and daughters pip them at the post. The last table, gone.
They watched the family take its place in the queue. A short hushed discussion. Stares in the man's direction.
Surreptitiously, two of them eased themselves into the table the family had "booked".
With a subtle hand movement one of them displaced the man's bag into the no man's land between another table. The third member of the posse was dispatched to the order line, just as if nothing had happened.
When the father returned he was initially puzzled. He stood there holding the tray piled with food and drinks. You could tell he felt slightly silly for a moment. An unexpected pang of self-doubt masked his face.
Then he noticed his bag - conveniently offset from its original position. This was no accident of nature, no slippage by gravity, no earth tremor. In the words of American law firm TV dramas—this was "pre-meditated"!
The penny dropped. Puzzlement became annoyance. The children hid behind his back.
"Excuse me," he said firmly, "but I think you are in our place."
The two girls stared back blankly. Silence. Their gormless look said: "What are you going to do about it? Didn't you know that possession is ninth tenths of the law?"
It is a classic question. What are the rights and entitlements of the First Arriver? Is the world really about first-come-first-served? Is it really about first-past-the-post takes all?
Back to story number one.
As you recall, both drivers arrived at the same time on the bridge that could only take one car at a time.
Driver number one rolled down his window and yelled at the other man:
"I don't back up for fools!"
Driver number two paused, creased his brow and then calmly said: "Well, I do!"
Driver number two shifted his pick up into reverse gear and backed off the bridge, allowing the angry other to pass by.
Back to story number two.
"Let's go, girls," the father said, as he calmly put his family into reverse and backed away from the table.
We live in a world of people who are simultaneously threatened and self-entitled. The need to be first explains so much of the world.
"I don't back up for fools!"
"Well, I do!"
Sometimes it is less foolish to be second than to be first.