Martin Auer: The Strange War, Stories for Peace Education

   
 

At Your Own Doorstep

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Original in English by Martin Auer

Reviewed by Sara Bernal Rutter

The Dreamer
The Blue Boy
Planet of the Carrots
Fear
Fear Again
The Strange People from Planet Hortus
When the Soldiers Came
Two Fighters
Man Against Man
The Great War on Mars
The Sun and the Moon
The Slave
The Farmers who Were Good at Numbers
The Strange War
Arobanai
Star Snake
Traffic Jam
At Your Own Doorstep
The Two Prisoners
Justice
The Bewitched Islands
Money
In the War
The Story of a Good King
Report to the United Solar Systems' Council
Open Words
The Bomb
Foreword
Author's comments
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About the Translator
About the Author
Mail for Martin Auer
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There was a town that suffered badly from traffic jams. For some reason there were not many traffic lights, and one reason for the constant jams was this: When drivers drove up to an intersection and saw that the column of cars across the intersection came to a stop, they would nonetheless try to press their car onto the intersection, so they would not be blocked by the traffic coming from the side when the column in front would move on. In this way of course they blocked the traffic coming from the left and from the right. What would happen further is hard to explain in words, a computer animation could make this clear in a minute. Let's try it anyway: All the roads from north to south were called streets, and all the roads going from east to west were called avenues. Now let's say Mrs. Kumar is driving along 5th Street going north and approaching the intersection of 5th Street and Avenue D. She sees that traffic behind the intersection is slowing down, but still she drives onto the intersection and has to stop right there. In this way she blocks the traffic going east to west and west to east on Avenue D. So it happens that Mrs. Miller, going west on Avenue D drives onto the intersection with 4th Street, blocking the traffic there, and Mrs. Szymanski, going east on Avenue D drives onto the intersection with 6th Street, blocking the traffic there. Next the intersections of 6th Street and Avenue C and 6th Street and Avenue E will be blocked, as well as 4th Street and Avenue C and 4th Street and Avenue E and so on … And the jam spreads across the whole town.
"This is war on our roads!" Mrs. Kumar used to sigh every evening when she was driving home from work. One day Mrs. Kumar remembered the saying: Peace begins at your own doorstep. She decided not to press onto intersections any more. But when she stopped before an intersection because the traffic behind it was stopping to let the cars coming from the side pass, the drivers behind her would honk their horns and even shake their fists at her. Because, of course, if she would not press onto the intersection when it was possible for her to do so, it might be quite a long time until the traffic coming from the side would give her a chance to cross. But what was worse than other drivers being mad at her was this: When she did not make use of every possible advantage she arrived home about half an hour later than usual. This made her sad because her family were waiting for her to cook dinner and the children needed her to help them with their homework and really the chores in the house were so many that Mrs. Kumar felt she could not afford to lose this half hour. She felt it was her duty to her family to drive home as fast as she could. So after some days she just gave up and returned to driving like everybody else did.
What Mrs. Kumar did not know was this: Two weeks earlier Mrs. Miller had had just the same thought. She also started to stop befor intersections to make way for the cars coming from the right and the left. She also got fists shaken at her and she also lost half an hour that she felt she should devote to her own family. And so Mrs. Miller had given up again just as Mrs. Kumar. And four weeks earlier Mrs. Szymanski had had just the same experience. And she had also given up.
One Saturday afternoon Mrs. Kumar took her children to the playground in the park. She sat on one of the benches and watched them playing on the seesaw and the monkeybars. By chance Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Szymanski came to sit on the same bench and the three ladies started talking about the weather, the children, the cost of living and the impossible traffic situation of the city.
"It is war on our roads!" sighed Mrs. Kumar.
"This city is a madhouse!" said Mrs. Miller.
"People are so selfish!" exclaimed Mrs. Szymanski.
At this point Mrs. Fukuda, who was sitting on the next bench, bent over and said: "Excuse me for interfering, but I think that peace begins at your own doorstep. I have decided that from now on I will not drive onto intersections anymore. I think someone just has to start doing the sensible thing."
So the three other ladies all at the same time excitedly began to tell Mrs. Fukuda about their experiences.
"It is hopeless!" sighed Mrs. Kumar.
"It is a tragedy!" cried Mrs. Miller.
"There is nothing that can be done!" exclaimed Mrs. Szymanski.
"But we have a duty towards our fellow humans!" said Mrs. Fukuda. "We cannot be so selfish!"
"Yes. But we also have a duty towards our families", said Mrs. Kumar. "It is not selfishness that makes me drive as fast as I can. It is the wish to be with my family! I know I should drive a little slower so others can get home earlier. But what about my own family? It would be unfair to them."
"It is tragic", said Mrs. Miller. "By driving sensibly we lose half an hour every day. But if everybody would drive sensibly, everybody would be home half an hour earlier every day!"
"Yes, it's a tragedy!" said Mrs. Szymanski. "Being unselfish and sensible doesn't help. It even makes your family sad and the drivers behind you mad. Something is wrong with: Peace begins at your own doorstep!"
"I think", said Mrs. Fukuda, "that we should start a campaign! You see, you all had the same idea, but not at the same time. That is why you had no success. But if the four of us start driving sensibly tomorrow …"
"Then there will be only four of us in a city of millions!" said Mrs. Kumar.
"Well, so we will talk to our husbands. If they agree with us, we will already be eight. And if we talk to our neighbours … "
"We must write letters to the newspapers!" said Mrs. Miller.
"And make folders to hand out!" said Mrs. Szymanski.
"And make bumper stickers: I stop before an intersection so YOU can be home earlier!"
"No, it should say: So we all can be home earlier!"
"And we should get on talk shows on TV!"
So the four ladies exchanged phone numbers and started their campaign. Their children and even their husbands helped them to draft folders and make drawings and write letters to the newspapers and Mrs. Kumar's eldest son even created a computer animation showing how the jam spreads over the whole city and they sent emails to all their friends and acquaintances and soon they found that many people had had similar thoughts about the war on the roads, but all at different times and different places and all had given up again. And people started recognizing each other on the road by their bumper stickers and when they saw many cars carrying the stickers they were not afraid they would get shouted at at the interesection when they stopped to let others pass, and then in one part of the city people found that – whoops, they really got home faster now although everybody was driving slower, and when the news spread, soon the general mood in the city changed and now people would honk their horns and shake their fists at people who blocked the intersection. But the more sensible ones would go and hand them a folder.
"Well", said Mrs. Kumar, "Peace begins at your own doorstep, but it also needs some coordination!"

Meanwhile in the neighbouring town elections for the city council were being held. One of the candidates promised to solve the traffic problem and he got elected. The new mayor doubled the taxes, employed a lot of policemen and had cameras installed at every intersection. And everybody who blocked an intersection had to pay a fine amounting to one month's salary and if they could not pay they had to go to prison. This too solved the traffic problem. And fast too!
   
 

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