“Peace through pieces,” David Mittrany wrote. In a world of increasing violence, now even in Geneva junior high schools, one appreciates more and more small acts of generosity. For all the advantages of technology, there has been a loss of positive face-to-face interaction. Ordering with Amazon is not the same as visiting the neighborhood bookstore. Buying by catalogue is not the same as negotiating with a local salesperson. Calling out for pizza is not the same as being greeted with a friendly smile by a familiar waiter in your favorite restaurant. Driving alone in a car with the radio blasting separates one from any contact with the surroundings.
Is public transport any different? One enters a tram or bus face-to-face with people glued to their telephones. No human contact, except occasionally a very polite person who offers a seat to someone older. Otherwise, everyone seems content in his or her world, oblivious to what is going on around except which stop is coming up.
I try to thank the driver each time I get off the bus in order to reconnect. By saying that I appreciate the service he or she has done, I try to be more than just someone in a crowd, and the driver more than just an anonymous chauffeur. (Will there even be drivers in the future?)
I am never stressed in the bus, except perhaps to find a place to stand during rush hour. But I am sure the driver is stressed. My thank you and wishing a good day is a way to express some form of recognition, some form of humanity.
All of this is an introduction to something I witnessed that stands out as a special memory. I was riding in a bus headed toward the train station. The driver pulled up at the Perle de Lac stop. Nothing unusual. Red light, waiting for the light to turn green. Suddenly, the driver opened the front door and got out of the bus. He ran across the rue de Lausanne to help an elderly man slowly crossing the street. The light had been green when the gentleman started crossing but it was turning red and the cars were starting to speed up heading toward the man.
The driver ran toward the man, giving him his arm to help him walk and with the other arm held up the incoming traffic. The cars slowed down and stopped. The man made it safely to the sidewalk and the driver re-entered the bus. Traffic picked up. The man very slowly continued on his way.
There were few people in the bus. No one complained that we had lost time, as perhaps would have happened in New York. But then again, no one applauded. I generously thanked the driver when I got out of the bus several stops later, but regret not having taken down his name.
Was this incident truly unusual? When I recounted it to the head of the TPG Board of Directors, Anne Hornung-Soukup, she started telling me of several other similar incidents. (Perhaps there should be a column in a local newspaper for such examples to counteract headlines about knives and guns in schools and politicians’ expense accounts.)
The humanity of the bus driver represents a simple act of kindness by someone who was not tied down in his own world. He could see the difficulties of the elderly gentleman; he was able to forget his time schedule and driver’s role to perform an act of assistance that was out of his ordinary daily routine.
You might say that what the driver did does not represent something that unusual or heroic, or even worthy of a blog. Maybe not. But to me, it was a reminder of how far we have gone from such simple acts and how we must continue to struggle to overcome the pressures to dehumanize in order to hold onto our humanity.
“Chapeau” to the bus driver and my apologies for not getting his name right away.