A Shovel in Hand

Maybe the real battle is not to be found in this newsworthy stuff. Maybe real change comes from right there inside you.

By Ted Mitchell
Published December 20, 2007

The holidays are here again after a year that seemed to fly by. Shortly we will have the mainstream press rehashing events of the year and reveling in bad news stories.

I feel at this time of year that the important things are obscured by those big headlines of climate change and endless wars, political instability and partisan figurative snowball fights.

Maybe the real battle is not to be found in this newsworthy stuff. Maybe real change comes from right there inside you.

I look around and see great contrast in the actions of people on the street. Some people are busy, smiling, helping each other with their sidewalks and stuck cars.

Others are behaving like self-centered assholes in the way they barrel down the road as if somehow the laws of physics do not apply to them, and the children slipping on the sidewalks do not even cross their mind. Sometimes only a few minutes separates the same person from each of these descriptions.

Surely there is no hope of progress on the world's big problems if people in our gifted country cannot respect their neighbours enough to stop hurting them.

There are so many ways that we compromise each other's quality of life: the raucous noise which is the main product of a lawn contractor, the acrid, carcinogenic smoke downwind of that warm cozy fireplace, stereos blaring music that to some people's ears is a form of torture. It seems we have a cultural obsession with denial and rationalization that puts even the egocentrism of young children to shame.

Of all those acts of mass quality of life destruction, the gold medal goes to the automobile. Or rather, what it does to our behaviour.

Cars are not human in scale. This seems to be easily forgotten, as is the common courtesy that people show to each other when on foot. Although one of my roles is a very important one as an emergency doctor, I quite honestly take that job less seriously than getting behind the wheel.

Each year, some 3,000 Canadians die as a result of vehicular trauma. If you dig into this further, the problem is nearly all human fallibility: distraction, aggression, and impairment.

I believe that a serious safety program could reduce this number to 300. To achieve this we would have to drastically raise the bar for licensing, preemptively remove known substance abusers from the road, start meaningful safety education campaigns and accept only a much higher standard of driving behaviour.

Think for a second about the families of those 3,000 people, and what kind of Christmas they will have this year. Keep them in mind when you decide what is a safe speed to drive, whether you should blow that stop sign, forget to signal, take up both lanes while turning, double park, yak on a cell phone or walk outside lubed up with keys in your hand.

Instead of feeling glib about giving presents and writing cheques to charities, consider that the true measure of your generosity might be how you behave behind the wheel. Maybe it is worth it to think of those schoolchildren at the corner as your own, and drive accordingly.

Since it is the season of indulgence, I ask: What would a Canadian Jesus drive? He would not. He'd have Kodiaks on his feet and a shovel in hand.

Ted Mitchell is a Hamilton resident, emergency physician and sometimes agitator who recently completed a BEng at McMaster University. He is fascinated by aspects of our culture that are harmful, but avoid serious public discussion.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted December 21, 2007 at 09:39:19

Amen! lol! Hey Ted, Look!! I agree ;)

I don't even have a driveway to shovel but I really wanted to shovel snow (call me crazy) so I slept over at my friends place and shovelled theirs and their 2 neighbour's driveways and sidewalks 3 times on Sunday. Of course this isn't the only reason, I had to be up the mountain early in the morning and wanted to minimize my driving time/distance but I loved it. I didn't end up driving until the evening and so I didn't see anyone stuck on the road and the reason I stayed off the road for so long was because of the people you talk about in your piece. I love driving in the snow and I drive cautiously except for the occasional e-brake turn which, when done properly and with no other vehicles or pedestrians around, can be the simplest way around a corner if the roads are really slick but I don't trust the majority of the other drivers on the road who enjoy taking my lives in their hands...especially those in their SUVs chatting on their cell phones as their flying down the highway in the left lane going much faster than everyone else because they THINK they're invincible!

I think it's too easy to get your license and I also think it's to easy to become a drivers' instructor. Is it even regulated?

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