On the Rule of the Road by A.G Gardiner  

On the Rule of the Road Essay Text

On the Rule of the Road 

A.G Gardiner  



A stout old lady was walking with her basket down the middle of a street in Petrograd to the  great confusion of the traffic and with no small peril to herself.  

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It was pointed out to her that the pavement was the place for pedestrians, but she replied: ‘I’m  going to walk where I like. We’ve got liberty now.’ It did not occur to the dear old lady that if  liberty entitled the pedestrian to walk down the middle of the road, then the end of such liberty  would be universal chaos. 

Everybody would be getting in everybody else’s way and nobody would get anywhere.  Individual liberty would have become social anarchy. There is a danger of the world getting  liberty-drunk in these days like the old lady with the basket, and it is just as well to remind  ourselves of what the rule of the road means. It means that in order that the liberties of all may  be preserved, the liberties of everybody must be curtailed. When the policeman, say, at  Piccadilly Circus, steps into the middle of the road and puts out his hand, he is the symbol not  of tyranny, but of liberty.  

You may not think so. You may, being in a hurry, and seeing your car pulled up by his  insolence of office, feel that your liberty has been outraged. “How dare this fellow interfere with  your free use of the public highway?” Then, if you are a reasonable person, you will reflect that  if he did not interfere with you, he would interfere with no one, and the result would be that  Piccadilly Circus would be a maelstrom that you would never cross at all. You have submitted  to a curtailment of private liberty in order that you may enjoy a social order which makes your  liberty a reality. 

Liberty is not a personal affair only, but a social contract. It is an accommodation of interests.  In matters which do not touch anybody else’s liberty, of course, I may be as free as I like. If I  choose to go down the road in a dressing- gown who shall say me nay? You have liberty to  laugh at me, but I have liberty to be indifferent to you. And if I have a fancy for dyeing my hair,  or waxing my moustache (which heaven forbid), or wearing an overcoat and sandals, or going to  bed late or getting up early, I shall follow my fancy and ask no man’s permission. I shall not  inquire of you whether I may eat mustard with my mutton. And you will not ask me whether  you may follow this religion or that, whether you may prefer Ella Wheeler Wilcox to  Wordsworth, or champagne to shandy. In all these and a thousand other details you and I  please ourselves and has no one’s leave.  

We have a whole kingdom in which we rule alone, can do what we choose, be wise or  ridiculous, harsh or easy, conventional or odd. But when we step out of that kingdom, our  personal liberty of action becomes qualified by other people’s liberty. I might like to practice on  the trombone from midnight till three in the morning. If I went onto the top of Everest to do it,  I could please myself, but if I do it in my bedroom my family will object, and if I do it out in  the streets the neighbours will remind me that my liberty to blow the trombone must not  interfere with their liberty to sleep in quiet.

There are a lot of people in the world, and I have to accommodate my liberty to their liberties.  We are all liable to forget this, and unfortunately we are much more conscious of the  imperfections of others in this respect than of our own. A reasonable consideration for the  rights or feelings of others is the foundation of social conduct.  

It is in the small matters of conduct, in the observance of the rules of the road, that we pass  judgment upon ourselves, and declare that we are civilized or uncivilized. The great moments  of heroism and sacrifice are rare. It is the little habits of commonplace intercourse that make  up the great sum of life and sweeten or make bitter the journey.







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