Going Around in Circles

Going Around in Circles..


Vivek Hande


We are from the ‘bridge ‘generation. We grew up asking for directions on the road the conventional way. Whether one was in a vehicle or going in circles on foot, trying to find ones’ way in a new city- we rolled down the window or stopped a seemingly knowledgeable  passerby and asked for directions the good old fashioned way. Could you please tell me, how do I get there?  This has changed rapidly with the use of the GPS or your smart phone assistant who helps you, or is supposed to help you to get to Point A from Point B. Our children are rather disdainful of the idea of seeking directions from a third person. “We will use the GPS” or “Google Maps will take you there  Dad”!!


But asking for directions was exciting in its own way. First, the business of honing down on the appropriate person. He had to appear “local”- meaning not a visitor or a tourist. His body language had to convey that he knew the lay of the land well. His demeanor had to convey a friendly nature. You did not want to get brushed away by a curt, grumpy old fellow. Invariably, a trifle sexist, but one naturally was inclined to choose a male as a potential “Director”(giver of directions) rather than a lady. It is a different thing that the gentleman would probably give you directions which would take you around the locality and get you back from where you started! The confidence of the “Director” or the lack of it leads to the Rule of Three- always confirm from three independent directors in a span of five minutes that you are indeed headed in the right direction.



 In some places, the Rule of Three changes to Rule of Five depending on the confidence and reliability of the Directors. I have known my Dad to seek directions and quite often getting into a conversation with the Directors and short of being invited by them for lunch or asking them to join us for drinks, a firm bond of friendship would be established!!   But the problem also lies in getting yourself to ask for directions. There was a survey published in 1998 in the United Kingdom. It brought out that men are likely to wait half hour being completely lost before they would seek directions. Women did it after an average of seven minutes.  12% men sought no help and chose to keep going around in circles. 40% men, even if they did seek directions, did not trust the directions given and would continue to go around in circles. Men, on an average, traveled 276 miles a year going around in circles and clocked about 2000 Pounds lifetime on wasted fuel. The statistics do go a fair distance to prove a point!!



Giving directions is also an art and it is handicapped by what analysts call the Curse Of Knowledge. The person giving directions assumes that you know the general scheme of things – “Turn Right at The Yellow Door” and such like is implied on the premise that you know where the Yellow Door is. If you did, you would probably not be seeking directions. Seeking directions in an alien language is another challenge but exciting and adventurous in its own way. Just Keep Going Straight is a standard answer. A friend of mine, recently tried out his newly acquired French, to ask, “ Ou Sont Les Toilettes?”.The Parisian replied, “Tout Droit” – Straight Ahead and pointed in a direction. The gentleman kept walking straight and after clocking 8000 plus steps on his Pedometer was nowhere close to finding anything that looked like a toilet but had almost reached the Airport; unfortunately his flight was still three days away. When an Italian says, “ Va Sempre Dirrito”- Just keep going straight and points in a direction, it could be ten steps to ten miles in virtually any direction! So be careful when you do seek directions..

And have you ever wondered why all smartphone assistants and GPS have female voices giving you directions or responding to your queries. As per Professor Clifford Nass of Stanford University, the human brain is developed to like the female voice better and this starts when the fetus is in the womb. And then it does have some historical background too – it used to be the women radio operators who gave directions to the pilots during World War II. Incidentally some years ago, in Germany, BMW had to recall their GPS as the men did not want to take directions from women. And I have a dear friend, who after living several years abroad, argues with his GPS in colorful Punjabi to overrule the directions provided and lets her know that he knows the roads better! The one sided exchange of expletives is quite refreshing, to say the least.  Siri , Alexa , Cortana all have female voices and it is only relatively recently that some platforms provide you to get directions from a male voice of your choosing.

But on a more philosophical note, somebody once told me, “Don’t ask for directions if you are not going to start the car”. It has greater depth than I credited him for. Unless you get out and seek directions and get lost and move around in circles till you find your destination, one cannot know the road well. And as Lao Tzu wrote, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”.


Author: vivekhande

A gastroenterologist who writes from the gut. an observer ; a learner ..

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