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Human Honking

Nature is happy right now. Humans have chilled out their activity and our city life has seen a resurgence of animal life. The other day at 2pm I saw a coyote sauntering down Seward Park Avenue on the sidewalk. 

There are bunnies everywhere. One even hopped across my shoe the other day at the park. And the geese seem to be as bold as ever, owning their space along the lake like they always do. This morning when I was walking a group of geese was crossing Lake Washington Boulevard. This happens frequently in my neighborhood. As they crossed the sidewalk into the street, I walked down towards the water to avoid any interruption in their path. There was a new batch of goslings and I know that the geese get especially aggressive when their babies are afoot. As I walked I heard a loud honk behind me and saw a blue Prius honking to the geese to hurry across the street.

I've been in that position-- waiting for a gaggle of geese to cross Lake Washington Boulevard so I could get home. Honking doesn't work for the geese. They don't quicken their pace or turn away from the honk. You just have to wait in your idling car until the last goose has passed. I started laughing as I thought about this human response to geese crossing the road. Human honking to make nature's way hurry along. It made me think about this virus, a natural occurrence affecting all of humanity. Many people are trying to hurry the virus along, to make it move out of the way faster, but like the geese, the virus has it's own path. We mere humans cannot make it jump to attention and move out of the way, no matter how we loud we honk. 

It's been upsetting to see the protests of late, people raging against the virus, as if this rage can somehow tame the affects or make it go away. It's such a human response, to think that we have the power to overtake nature. It doesn't work. It never has. We can't subdue a hurricane or an earthquake or a tornado by shouting loud enough. 

Humans lack patience.  We are so accustomed to taking charge, to getting what we want-- from the trees and the oceans and the inner layers of the earth-- that we've lost the ability to quietly, patiently wait. Recently, in Mumbai, India, the honking capital of the world, government officials experimented with ways to curb the honking. Honking, in addition to causing extreme noise pollution and more traffic chaos, elevates the heart rate, damages the eardrums, and increases overall stress levels. So officials set up 'punishing signals' around the city. Basically, the more you honk, the longer you wait, creating a disincentive to honk. In other words, forcing drivers to sit quietly and patiently while they wait for the light to change. Apparently the experiment is working and there are plans to introduce the punishing signal in other areas of India.

I understand why people are frustrated, rageful even, against this collective pause in our daily lives. The economic effects are scary and very immediately impactful for millions of people. But still,  honking our way to the other side is not the answer. The blue Prius this morning might have gotten to their destination five minutes sooner had they not had to wait for the crossing geese, but by adding their own honking horn, they only added to their own frustration, and the geese didn't change their path at all.

The Coronavirus is our traffic light in Mumbai. The more we honk, the longer we'll wait. We're all in this together people---if one car honks, the punishing signal affects everyone and we'll all wait longer. Now's the time to take a deep breath, put your car in park, and patiently wait for the geese to cross. 

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