Thursday, July 4, 2013

Traffic Topography and Goodness Amplification

Here's an interesting and touching bit of wisdom from the science of traffic topography. The mathematics of traffic flow - when and why it slows down, what effects lane additions have, etc. - are unbelievably complex. It makes rocket science look simple. And I don't pretend to have any depth of understanding, but there's one gem that's stuck with me ever since I first read about it as a child:

If you never, ever come to a stop in heavy traffic, then, even if you just creep along at 1 mph, you will have a profoundly positive effect on cars for miles in back of you. Untold dozens, hundreds, even thousands of drivers behind you will have a much better experience. You will, in other words, "be the change" you want to see.

As I've written before, I don't "get" conservation. I think it's a crock. But this is not. Here, results of one's individual actions are profound and concrete. One can leave, literally in one's wake, slightly happier hordes of people. If you have ever halted in slow moving traffic, you've served the forces of unhappiness and evil. Prior to reading this, it was unthinking evil. But now I've put you on notice!

I have a friend who once did important work helping poor people in the Bronx, but now writes and produces television shows in Hollywood. And while he's making great money, I don't get the feeling he's particularly satisfied, or that his talents are being fully channeled. So I asked him about his choices, and his reply was interesting. He said his work in the Bronx helped a few dozen people profoundly. But his work in Hollywood helps a few million people slightly (and maybe a few hundred or thousand people more than slightly). Every positive sentiment, every insightful nugget he manages to inject into his shows creates powerful ripple effects. More can be accomplished via small acts of goodness over a loud microphone than via unamplified large acts.

Of course, a combination of the two is best. But, for god's sake: please don't ever stop your car in traffic!

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