Driving on the other side as a metaphor
I recently returned from a trip to Thailand where my wife and I were celebrating our 25th anniversary. In planning this trip, one of the decisions we had to make was whether to rent a car. We were warned about the poorly maintained roads and the crazy drivers (as if the drivers in Israel aren’t crazy enough!), but not so much about the fact that driving there is on the other side of the road. Nevertheless, since we were planning to move from place to place, we decided to “brave it” and rent a car.
It turned out that the biggest challenge was not the roads or the motorbikes that seemed to emerge everywhere from nowhere, but the need to adjust to driving on the other side of the road. As an American-Israeli, I was familiar with only one way of driving — sitting on the left side of the car, with the gears located next to my right hand, the directional next to the steering wheel on the left, and then driving on the right side of the road. Initially, it was hard for me to escape the feeling that my way was the “right” way and that theirs was simply “wrong,” even though I knew that there were many countries around the world where driving on the left is the norm (68 out of 241, to be exact) and that theirs was just the other way of driving. Regardless, I had to spend eight days adjusting to driving on the other side, and it wasn’t easy, to say the least.
I cannot recall the number of times that either my wife or I confused the driver and the passenger doors, or the times I switched on the wipers instead of the directional. On one occasion, someone cut me off and my wife said I should flash him but I ended up shpritzing water on the front window instead. On several occasions, I began driving in the wrong lane and had to quickly shift to the other, and unfortunately, I damaged the car twice while parking because I wasn’t accustomed to parallel parking from the other side. It seemed that every time I entered the car I felt stress, my brain was on overdrive (pun intended), and, while driving, I felt the need to hold the wheel with two hands as if holding on for dear life.
By the time the trip to Thailand was over, however, I had begun to get the hang of it, and although I’m glad to be back home driving my own car on the right side of the road, I feel enriched to have had the opportunity to experience what it was like driving on the other side.
I believe that what I described above can serve as a metaphor for what is problematic about the way in which we tend to deal with the major issues facing Israel today. Whether in the relationships between the religious and the secular, between the political right and the left, or between those who are in favor of judicial reform and those who are opposed, instead of acknowledging the possible legitimacy of arguments and claims from the other side, we often summarily dismiss them as wrong at best, or dangerous, at worst. Proponents of each side are so certain of the truth of their claims that they have little interest and feel no need to listen to views from the other side. And it is this tendency that has caused tensions among us to flare up again and again, and that currently threatens to tear us apart.
Thus, for the sake of our future together, I suggest that we all make a concerted effort to “drive on the other side.” In other words, I propose that we begin by acknowledging that the other view is not necessarily wrong just because it is the “other,” as difficult as that may be. Then we should make a concerted effort to listen to the other view, and we should try, at least some degree, to live and experience it from the other side.
If we do so, I believe the tone of our exchanges will be far less heated, the volume of our arguments will be significantly reduced, and we will have laid the groundwork for an infinitely more civil and respectful discourse.