The Traffic Signal Talisman

A talisman to justify why change begins with one person.

One of the most common observations at a traffic signalled intersection in any Indian city is this:

People frequently violate the traffic signal in the following pattern: One person violates the signal and the others follow suit in quick succession.

Now the interesting part is this:

The reverse also holds true. If one person stops at the traffic signal, even at early mornings, nights or peak hours: times when violating the signal is most enticing, a large number of people will follow suit and avoid breaking the law as well.

I have been observing the reactions of other vehicle users after I start waiting at the traffic signal for many days now and believe me, it works. It works because there are a lot of marginal (undecided) people who are willing to follow the lead of others. This rule works for these marginal people. For people who are determined to break rules, it does not work. They need to be handled through other means.

There is a similar case with the garbage issue as well. Once a person starts dumping garbage at one corner, it attracts the marginal people to do the same. The objective of citizen cleanliness drives is similar to the traffic signal case. Once the marginal junta witnesses other people taking a lead, they come to help or at least to not do the wrong thing.

Knowing this is important because many of our problems related to publicly shared resources cannot be solved by the government alone. The traffic police cannot station a person at every signal or every footpath to apprehend the rule breakers. We have to be a part of the solution as well.

Hence the talisman:

Whenever you are in doubt, or when people chastise you by saying what good will come out of one person following a rule, remember this. You will change the minds of those at the margin in the right direction. They might in turn influence the slightly more strong-headed persons and the cycle will continue. Then you will find your doubts melting away.



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