Public First Program


Shane Elson


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+61-3-5952 5780

+61-4-1349 7828

Sept 2008 # 1

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Back to Editorials 2008

In a Split Second

Making split second decisions is something we do all day. Do we choose the ham and cheese sandwich or the salad and lamb? Do wear the blue shirt or the green one? Do we have our coffee in a mug or a cup? Obviously not all decisions carry the same weight or consequences. 

I had to make a split second decision last Sunday morning. It was, on reflection, perhaps not my best. I got knocked off my bike by a forby. You know, a Toorak tractor. I certainly didnít expect that outcome from my decision but I put my trust in someone I had never met to make another split second decision and give way to me. 

Now, I live in a tourist town that is frequented by, well, tourists. Iím not going to slag off at all tourists who choose to drive but I guess I expected that in a town that people visit to relax, it is inevitable that they let their guard down. In fact I used to be one of the tourists who came to visit this town before moving here. Nonetheless, there is a theoretical bond of trust between road users. 

I had almost made it through the round-a-bout and fortunately I had already unclipped my left foot, just in case. The impact was a bit more brutal than I would have liked but there wasnít any slow-mo or Ďlife flashing before my eyesí moments. Just the sound, the air, the road and the treddly. Iíll tell you what though, I got up quick! 

The poor bloke who hit me was as white as sheet when he got out of the car. I think he thought I was going to biff him one because I unleashed a rather long tirade of expletives on him as I gathered up the bit and pieces Ö of the bike, not me. 

My ankle was rather sore and I couldnít stand. Sinking to the grass I took off my helmet, shoe and sock and inspected the damage. Seeing and feeling there was nothing broken I turned my attention to the driver. 

He was a youngish bloke who, as I said, seemed like he was in shock. He admitted fault, and kept repeating that all he saw was a flash of red (my jacket). As we swapped details the driver of the car who was giving way to the bloke who hit me, came up and gave me his phone number. ďLet me know if I can help.Ē He said, before driving off. 

As I sat there rubbing the sore bits I made another split second decision. I would not call the police. Nothing was broken other than the metal and rubber of the bike. Other than my ankle and hip (which took the brunt of his bull bar) I was OK. So why get the legal system involved? I wasnít after retribution. 

Over the last few days, in the lead up to the seventh anniversary of the so-called 911 events, Iíve had the chance to reflect on my decisions and their outcomes. 

The first decision (to stop or not) was taken in good faith. I saw the driver look my way as he slowed down coming into the intersection. The fact that he says he didnít see me cant be changed. The fact that he hit me canít be changed. But what was in my control in the aftermath was how I chose to react. 

My first reaction, the tirade of abuse and threatening language, is perhaps explainable by the rush of adrenaline after the collision. I never had any intention of hitting him, a small, still rational, part of my mind told me that would do no good.

The second decision, to not get the legal system involved, was a far more rational one. Although, I must admit, I did take some pleasure in watching him squirm, obviously thinking I would. The question I have been reflecting on is why I chose to not invite the local constabulary to this little party? 

In the aftermath of 911 there was shock, anger, pain, fear and rage and ultimately a totally unbalanced response. A response that was not even once directed at those who were ultimately supporters of the suspects. The shock, anger, pain, fear and rage were used by those who hold the strings of power to feed their own egos and agendas. The tens of thousands killed as a result of the decisions we allowed them to make far outweigh the original numbers killed. 

The decisions we, collectively, have allowed to be taken in our names have resulted in terror, shock, anger, pain, fear and rage that threatens to blow back at us and increase the cycle of killing and revenge killing. 

While my little accident pales in comparison to what happened in September, 2001, itís often in the minutiae of one to one social interactions that our connection to larger social tides is revealed. Sure, I was really pissed that this bloke had hit me. But what would dragging him through the courts achieve? Sure, I was shocked that he had broken my trust. But what good would it do him or me to get involved in something that would affect his family and potentially his other relationships. I realised that my response to this situation gave me the power to decide on both our futures. 

The pain on his face was enough to convince me that the reoccurring image of that red flash would punish him far more severely than loosing his license and a few dollars in a fine. I had an opportunity to not perpetuate the cycle of retribution that fuels so much rage which then feeds back in the same cycle until it bursts out in more anger, pain and fear. 

As Colonel Rudd preaches the gospel of war and enjoins us to support his push to buy more weapons and killing machines, perhaps the time has come for those who should and indeed do, know better to step back and put themselves in the shoes of those who have done nothing to deliberately hurt them, real or perceived. 

Iíd like to think that as my bruises emerge and the pain in my bum cheek recedes that the small and insignificant gesture of trust and kindness I showed the bloke who knocked me off my bike will circle around him and his family and friends in such a way that it breaks the cycle of rage and ushers in some calm to a situation he or they will face. 

Perhaps the next split second decision he has to make will have a little less traumatic outcome than the one we both made last Sunday morning.

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