Manners in a short-fused world - Let’s revive best survival strategy of all

Former courier cyclist Charlie Alliston, who knocked down and killed Kim Briggs, a mother of two as she crossed a London street, has been convicted of wanton and furious driving but cleared of manslaughter at a groundbreaking Old Bailey trial. Alliston will be sentenced next month.

The judge warned Alliston he may go to jail, adding: “I have not seen one iota of remorse from Mr Alliston at all at any stage.”

Any road death is a tragedy but the circumstances of this one has renewed public discussion about how we might try to better live together in crowded, urban settings; how, by realising that there is a huge world outside of our own, often hermetically-sealed, bubble we might lead a less stressed, confrontational, and probably happier life.

Alliston was riding a bicycle — a fixie — that did not have a front brake, which made it illegal for road use. He told the court he saw Mrs Briggs step into the road while looking at her phone. Investigators concluded Alliston would have avoided the collision if his bicycle had a front brake.

After she died he used social media to suggest she was to blame but he removed those remarks after he understood how insensitive they were and the full gravity of his situation.

Those are the barest bones of a case that seems a fitting metaphor for today’s frantic, short-fused world.

A person trying to do two things at once steps into the path of a cyclist on a dangerous bicycle and sustains fatal injuries. One person may have been in a lunch-hour rush, the other was indifferent to a law designed to protect all road users.

Tragedy ensued.

This kind of conflict is the foundation stone for off-the-cuff aggression and the kind of everyday hostility that can make life so unnecessarily unpleasant. It fuels road rage and terrible rudeness, maybe even casual racism.

It is hardly a longing paean for bone-handled fish knives or the kind of respect men once showed by removing their hats while the national anthem was played to suggest that we might all benefit if that old, simple, time-proven idea — real, active consideration for others — was revived and became a more powerful influence in our lives.

That is not just a the-old-days-were-better supposition — science has shown that virtue is far more than its own reward.

Just over a decade ago Israel’s Hebrew University established a link between kindness and a gene that releases dopamine, a happy-making neurotransmitter in the brain. Elsewhere, Prof Sam Bowles from the Santa Fe Institute coined the phrase “survival of the nicest”. “Groups with many altruists tend to survive,” he argued.

There are many indices that suggest more and more of us will live closer and closer together. The homelessness crisis means new levels of housing density.

Population growth will exacerbate that. Even yesterday’s report that the number of bus or train journeys has increased by almost 31m in just four years means we may need to make politeness a default position if we are to survive in a cheek-by-jowl world.

It’s time to remember that manners are not an affectation but rather the best survival strategy of all — and one that pays the splendid dividend of living in a more civilised world.


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