What kind of world do we want?
This morning, like every Sunday morning, I needed a taxi. Around about 9am.
It is common knowledge in our neighbourhood that the most difficult time to get a taxi is on a Sunday morning at 9am. Not that this should be surprising. Who wants to be working on a Sunday morning? If I were a taxi-driver I would refuse to do a Sunday morning shift. On principle.
Nonetheless, every Sunday I make my way down to the roadside to hail a cab.
What would arrive first? The taxi or my impatience?
I had been waiting for a while. The clock was ticking. The 9.30am start of my appointment was under threat. The sun was getting hot. I shifted uneasily in my stance. No sign of any taxi.
It was about at that moment that a young lady descended from her block of flats and made her way to the road side. She too had somewhere to go. She too had to be there by a certain time.
I watched her glide across the lawn. I saw her glance at her watch. I saw her see me. I saw her see me waiting for a taxi.
Then, for reasons only she can justify, she stood 20 steps from me – right in front of me – and stuck out her arm to hail a cab. One minute I had pole position, the next minute it was usurped. Robbed, was the cry.
Instinctively, I walked up to her.
I had one question to ask: "Excuse me, Ma’am, is it socially acceptable to cut in front of someone waiting for a taxi so as to "steal" his taxi?"
If she said "no, that is not acceptable", I would point out she had just done that.
If she said "yes, it is acceptable", then I would point out that there was nothing to stop me from doing the very same thing to her.
But I wimped out. This is how it went.
Me: "You waiting for a taxi too?"
Her: [sheepish look and a giggle] "Yes, I am. I saw you were also waiting…"
Me: "Getting a cab at this hour is like winning the lottery. Good luck!"
I smiled warmly and proceeded to walk 20 steps past her to occupy a patch of grass down the road that looked like it had infinitely better taxi opportunities.
I had done to her exactly what she had done to me. I expected her to counteract my leapfrog by leapfrogging me (again). And if she had, I would have then had to leapfrog her leapfrog of my leapfrog...
You can see how ridiculous that could get. And I would very soon be 100 metres down a road, literally heading in the wrong direction.
So, standing there waiting for my taxi, my mind tried to reach out to find some norm, some objective principle, that could explain the small patch of the moral universe that I and some stranger were now sharing.
I remembered something I had read by the philosopher, Immanuel Kant.
Kant called it the Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative goes like this: Your actions should be capable of becoming a universal law.
That’s a really fancy way of saying: "What if everyone did that?" Or, to put it another way: "If everyone did what you just did, what would the world look like?"
So what would the world look like if we all waited our turn and honoured those who got there before we did?
And what would the world look like if we could be gracious to those who dishonoured us?
It all depends on what kind of a world we would like to live in.