It was late August, 2016, when my wife and I parked our gasoline-powered Toyota Yaris in front of a house in Tullinge, a suburb of Stockholm. We were there for a showing. We arrived a bit ahead of schedule so we waited patiently in our car. After about five minutes, I saw a beautiful black Tesla car turning onto our street.
“Oh look, a Tesla”, I tell her.
This isn’t really a common brand around here. I always enjoy seeing it around because I like it when people support the underdog. It encourages competition. Not to mention that Tesla’s cars are part of a new generation of vehicles that is more forward-looking and cleaner than the outgoing petrol-powered generation.
To my amusement, the Tesla enters the driveway of the house we are about to view and, sure enough, the real estate agent exits. He brands a neat black suit and gives us a thin smile.
“Looks like we got an environmentally-friendly agent here”, I enthusiastically tell my wife.
The guy takes out sign that spells “Visning” (that’s “viewing” in Swedish) and places it at the entrance of the driveway. Then, he strolls over to the house. His car takes up most of the driveway so, he walks close to the garden. On his way towards the entrance, the thin green-leafed branch of a tree gently touches his head.
He takes one more step forward then suddenly stops, casually steps back and, with a firm and determined hand, proceeds to bend the branch backwards until it snaps. With its new-found shape, the mutilated branch can now be shoved among its sisters so that it can wither away from the foreheads of Homo-sapiens. The cheeky tree will interfere with people going to the viewing no more. It is all done with fluent, calm, precise moves. We’re seeing a true professional at work here.
It all happens so fast that we are barely able to think about it. As he calmly makes his way to the house to open the door, I find myself looking at my wife and am met by her equally shocked expression.
“Do we dare to get out of the car? I’m afraid now. This guy is going to break us”, she jokes.
I don’t remember if I heard the branch snap, but I have a pretty vivid imagination. I remember how I cringed when he did that. For sure, something snapped inside of me. To better illustrate my level of surprise, imagine how a passenger enters the bus through the front door and presents his ticket to the driver. Everything being in order, the passenger makes a step towards his seat then, as if he forgot something, comes back and punches the driver in the face. After that, he proceeds and takes a seat as if nothing happened. Like the driver, the tree was just doing its job, growing and making the garden prettier. The tall and “environmentally-friendly” agent ruined a thin branch that would have barely touched anybody.
Sometimes people cheat our expectations in the funniest ways. I saw this guy as some sort of example of environmental-awareness because of the car he drove. Sure, I am fully aware of the fact that real estate agents earn a lot of money, especially during a time when Sweden has been experiencing a decade-long property bubble. Even so, I liked the fact that he chose to buy a Tesla. I was thinking that he’s probably such a swell guy. Perhaps he really is a swell guy, but his gesture betrayed a gross disrespect for environment and life (which is not incompatible at all with being a swell guy, among humans at least).
I don’t want to paint this man as if he’s an agent of evil. We’re all different. Diversity is beautiful. What we think is right or wrong varies wildly from person to person, especially when it comes to things that our culture doesn’t bother too much educating. I do find it sad that our species finds it easier to bulldoze nature around rather than collaborate with it.
Perhaps in the world this brother lives in, a low branch barely infringing upon the edge of the driveway counts as a nuisance, but for my wife and I, that branch would have brought our garden closer to us. The very reason why we’re looking to buy a house is exactly so that we can be closer to the earth, with all its life. We’re not fanatics about protecting nature, we’re aware that in order to survive we have to eat and at times manipulate our environment. But there is such a thing as taking it too far.
So, little did he know that in our eyes, he just committed an act of savagery against our possible future garden. Well, we didn’t get too far in the bidding process for the house anyway. But looking back, I think I should’ve told him, as a joke at least, that his gesture has just decreased our interest in the property with about ten thousand kronor. After all, real estate agents are interested to get as much as possible for a given house. Perhaps he would have thought more carefully about his gesture if a possible customer, especially a non-Swede, would have administered a bit of advice into the ways of respecting nature. Especially since Swedes pride themselves with having an innate respect for the ecosystem.
I won’t even remotely blame him for his behavior. It’s full of fake environmentalists out there. The only reason I’m even writing this story is because his gesture was in such stark contrast with who I thought I’m dealing with. First impressions can be deceiving.
More importantly, “deceived first impressions” will matter a lot especially during the first hours spent with a person. The guy turned out to be quite polite and friendly. But the indifference with which he snapped that branch seriously affected my opinion of him. Perhaps this is an exaggerated reaction, but I like to think of it as an indication that I can have empathy towards many forms of life.
Sure, plants are quite different than us, but they’ve also been here much longer than we have. Plants are the ramp upon which more complex organisms launched themselves into existence, ourselves included.