February 25, 2022
Three Colors of Worldview in Traffic
Have you ever been in the fast lane and noticed drivers around you behaving differently from you? How about moving from an on-ramp into the flow of traffic and finding that nobody will give way to you?
In our first intercultural traffic article, we unpacked how the Three Colors of Worldview influence how we think and act on the roads. Innocence/Guilt (I/G) cultures focus on doing it right. Honor/Shame (H/S) cultures focus on enhancing or preserving honor. Power/Fear (P/F) cultures focus on maintaining or improving the balance of power. For a longer explanation of how these cultural drivers work, take a look at the first article. In this final part, we will be looking at different scenarios to understand how those cultural drivers influence the way we engage each other on the road.
Let’s start with an example: You are in a country where cars drive on the right-hand side – you are in the fast lane on the left. A van driving faster than you in the same fast lane is getting closer. You are faced with two options – do you move over to let the van pass, or do you stay in your lane?
Now, if you are an I/G oriented driver, you are likely to think about the rules first. You might run quick scenarios in your head that center around the rules. Since you are following the speed limit, the van coming up behind you is not; obviously, that driver is driving too fast. You might think: “I have the right to be in the fast lane at the legal speed, the van driver will have to slow down till it is safe for me to move over so the van can pass.” Or: “That driver is going too fast and should follow the rules. I will stay in the fast lane and teach the driver a lesson so that we all stick to the rule.”
However, if an H/S driver is driving the van behind you, the driver might have the following possible reactions: “I am an honorable citizen of my country or an honorable member of my family/tribe. I do not behave in a dishonorable way on the roads and will patiently wait for the other driver to move over.”
OR: “My honor is at stake if I must slow down, so I will drive extra close, flash my lights or drive a little left and then a little right. This way I am indicating to the driver in front that they have to move over.” The I/G driver in front of the van would once again think back to the rules and conclude that the H/S driver can wait. The I/G oriented driver in front would get upset if the H/S driver of the van sat on his bumper flashing his lights (which is by law only supposed to be used in case of an emergency or by emergency vehicles). The driver of the van is obviously not following the rules… This could result in an emotional (sometimes angry) response from the I/G driver in front of the van.
However, if we look at this same scenario but with an H/S driver in front of the van, a different reaction can occur. The H/S driver might feel that their honor is at stake and wanting to bring the most honor to the situation, the H/S driver in front might actually speed up so that the driver behind is unable to pass.
The same situation with a P/F driver might result in a debate with themselves over who is in power here, focusing their energy on assessing the power level of the driver behind and just how much power the person behind them has. License plates, ethnicities and nationalities will come into this assessment – “is my country more or less powerful than theirs?” The P/F driver enters a power struggle, even if the other driver is unaware. Cultural scuffles like this happen every day on our multicultural roads and inside us, without us even fully realizing it.
Another example that I’ve witnessed is in the different approaches to roundabouts. In time past, in the UAE when traffic was lighter, they used lots of roundabouts. The roundabout rules worked for a time but then traffic became heavy, causing traffic delays because the Three Colors of Worldview did not want to follow the same roundabout rules in heavy traffic. Traffic came to a standstill in multi-lane roundabouts because not everyone was abiding by the same rules. Since we cannot verbally communicate to other drivers in the split-second decisions that we make, there are all sorts of misunderstandings that occur, either culturally or personally, and these are heightened in the roundabout system. The government has taken steps to replace the roundabouts with traffic lights to solve the problem. It’s fascinating how people who are just entering the cultural space of an international city are unaware of the various cultural factors that drive them and those around them. Over time, they learn how to navigate this new cultural terrain.
Another major way where we see cultural conflicts at play is in how we enter onto highways. Typically, when you look to enter a highway, you use the “merging lane”, in Dutch we refer to it as the “weaving lane.” The problem with merging lanes is that the majority of them are too short — in an intercultural driving situation, it takes people longer to figure out their decision. People from slow-flowing traffic countries use the merging lane differently than people from fast-flowing traffic countries. Slower traffic countries use the merging lane right up to the end. This behavior is dangerous for people from faster traffic countries – they will watch the flow of traffic and squeeze in when they can find a spot that is two cars wide.
On top of slow traffic vs. fast traffic, we have the Three Colors’ influence on drivers. An I/G oriented driver will check their mirrors often and make eye contact with other drivers to see who needs to be let in, assuming that you are also an I/G driver. However, like most of the illustrations we have used, things get a little messy when different worldviews interact believing they share the same worldview. If a P/F driver is signaled to by someone that wants to merge, they may decide to not let them in due to a desire to appear more powerful. A H/S driver may be put off by the I/G’s standard side glance and feel a loss of honor in the interaction with the I/G driver and not want to let them in. If a driver nods their head or uses a hand gesture instead of the side glance, it actually turns out to be a more positive interaction for both the drivers. This way of asking seems to be the politest and causes both drivers to feel better about the interaction.
It is fascinating to look at how our culture shows up even in split-second interactions, impacting both ourselves and those we drive with. Read more about the Three Colors of Worldview and KnowledgeWorkx’ framework for understanding culture here.