I’ve spoken before of the importance, nay, the duty we have, to replace the word “accident” with “crash”, as have others as recently as a few days ago, and today I’m going to take issue with another similar idea that, though it’s intentions are in the right place, underscores just how very screwed up our society has become.
That it, the formal request to Please be kind to cyclists.
The idea, of course, is not at issue. Clearly we need to all get along, not only because it’s nicer that way, but it’s really the only way we’re going to survive for much longer on this planet. We need to be courteous. We need to be kind. We need to have empathy. We cannot go about our days only being concerned with ourselves and expect everything to be alright.
Now then, why is it potentially harmful to base a campaign on the idea of being kind to cyclists? Because it implies that being kind is not only an unconventional expectation, but that by doing so, people are actually committing an act of kindness towards someone else. The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate, is certainly worthy of encouragement, but in this context the request implies special treatment of some kind, whereas what it’s really asking for is something quite a lot less wonderful.
Not glassing someone at the bar isn’t kind. Not pushing someone down a flight of stairs isn’t kind. Not leaving your hosts freezer open all night isn’t kind. And, not putting cyclists in danger isn’t kind. It’s the absolute least you can do.
The idea that there needs to be a campaign to try to get people to be “kind” to cyclists, ie, not harass or hit or kill them, is absolutely amazing, but the fact that it’s necessary at all is the really astonishing part.
Not endangering someone’s life isn’t being kind, it’s being normal. You shouldn’t get to feel special for doing so. It’s being an adult human being, and it’s so very messed up to think that doing so is an act of kindness.
You want to be kind to cyclists? I’d love a new groupset. Some new kit would be great. My chain and cassette are a bit dirty – would you mind giving them a bit of a scrub?
The other thing that is troublesome about this is the cyclists part. Obviously the campaign is dealing with cyclists exclusively, so who else would it request that people be kind to. It would also logically suggest that cyclists are currently not being showered with kindness.
So as far as the campaign goes, I don’t have a problem with it identifying cyclists specifically.
The bit that bothers me in general, however, is that it’s differentiating cyclists from normal people (much like helmets differentiate cycling from equally or more dangerous activities that you’d never consider wearing a helmet for). Or, not even as people at all, but just cyclists. Ewww… cyclists! (To be fair, even I think that from time to time…) It’s subtly suggesting that cyclists are a special segment of the population that don’t intrinsically deserve to be treated with kindness – we need to go out of our way to do so. “It would be really great if you could be kind by not specifically mistreating or directly abusing these kerb-dwelling miscreants. Mmmkay?”
It would be better to change the way that cyclists are identified in such a way that people are reminded that cyclists are, in fact, human beings. That cyclist, upon removing their helmet and placing their bike out of sight, not only becomes your boss, or your lawyer, or your doctor, or your child’s teacher, but in fact always was and will continue to be during their ride home. We should drop the cyclist part, and replace it with “people” or “humans”, because it seems that some people forget that cyclists are actually people and not just moving chicanes and obstacles to progress, which is totally ironic considering that the angry, unwashed masses shouting slurs at cyclists are the ones who really, really want to maintain the status quo at all costs (which are many).
Actually being kind would be great, but I’ll settle for merely treating us like human beings, thanks.
So, no more asking people to be kind to cyclists. We need to start demanding that everyone refrains from treating people who are riding a bike with active or passive aggression, intimidation, cruelty, or abuse. It’s not quite as catchy a slogan, I’ll give you that.
We can tackle kindness when we have figured that one out.
Header image: source