The Misconception of Red Lights
An idea for peace with a potentially bigger impact than shouting for peace
Nobody likes them. The general conception of red lights is negative. Either they stop us from walking on the street or they indicate a risk for avalanches in the mountains and stop us from having a blast on the ski slopes (I’m aware that this is a very specific example, but as a Swiss, I just can’t forget our lovely mountains). The point is, red lights are stupid and annoying. And that’s exactly the notion I am going to challenge. Because I truly believe that red lights are here for a good reason that is by far more purposeful and positive than being annoying.
It’s not the first time that I had this idea, but the last time I thought about it I felt the urge to write it down. I was in Jerusalem on my way to friends for a Purim meal. There were quite a few streets to cross and most of them had lights, yes, those annoying red ones, that forced me to wait. I wasn’t physically forced to wait, because everyone else crossed the street anyway. And I, the well-raised and innocent angel, waited. The truth is, neither am I an angel nor did I wait because of my excellent behaviour. I waited because I said yes to an experiment. I challenged myself to an experiment called „self-control“. The result of my waiting experiment was quite shocking. I arrived at the destination at the same time as my fellow pedestrians. And you know what? I wasn’t annoyed at all, other than the others who were seemingly stressed and annoyed. The red light, after being a fearsome enemy for so many years, suddenly became a friend of mine.
Let’s now get to the point of this extremely interesting story. As a Jew, have you ever felt that Shabbat is preventing you from doing something? As a human being, have you ever felt that some sort of commitment prevents you from doing something else? I‘ll take this as a yes. Same here. You know, it’s no different than the red light situation. We‘re annoyed when the red light prevents us from going further, but we mostly don’t realize two very important things. First, the red light saves us from being driven over, and second, the red light is a break for us from the constant stresses of our busy lives. Not many people have the luxury of being unoccupied and relaxed. As a result, we’re constantly moving around from one place to the other and the only time we’re breathing and enjoying the world is when we’re dead. And even then I‘m not too sure. Imagine a life with frequent reminders that calm you down, stop you from being annoyed, and let you enjoy the sun rays on your face.
Furthermore, think about the opportunities that are open to you when waiting at a red light. Maybe someone else will wait next to you, a fellow human being who at this point for sure has nothing better to do, and who‘d maybe even be open to a short conversation. As a Jew in Jerusalem, let’s imagine this other person is a Muslim. If you only smile at him or her, chances that they‘ll think more positively about you and your people goes up. And vice versa. The same applies to all people who are different and might need a positive experience with their counterparts. It is in those moments when world change is happening. And if everyone would do their part in showing some love and compassion, those and similar moments at a red light would be by far more powerful than any political discussions or arranged events. It is not in politics, where everyone has to impress and convince everyone else, that real change is taking place. It is on the street, maybe at a red light, when two human beings are both standing in front of a seemingly small decision, but in fact, are facing a major one. Either they cross on red and escape a potentially world-changing event, or they wait, relax, drop all their biases, and smile at each other.
In life, we must earn twofold. One earning being materialistic and the other one spiritual. This demands two types of laws, mundane laws like not crossing the street on red, and social-spiritual laws like loving each other. In the specific situation of escaping a potentially life-changing encounter by crossing the street at a red light, we are guilty of both laws. And I can think of very few excuses that would justify such a serious offense against world peace.