Positively Negative

Positively negative – we need to change the way we talk about cycling

I was just thinking this morning that most, or at least a very large proportion, of the news and media relating to cycling is negative. Combative. Argumentative, and not in the good sense. It’s one thing that the media often portrays cycling as a controversial issue – that is what the media (huge generalization, I know) feels is their job: to stir controversy: to sell ad space or air time – and that should not come as a surprise to anyone. It’s quite another that we cyclists often get sucked in and join that battle, chucking the grenades back over enemy lines, using the same tactics that they use, blaming, insulting, making clear distinctions between us and them.

Don’t get me wrong – I get it. I’ve done it. I react quite defensively indeed when I am assaulted and threatened on the road, when I read the putrid scribblings of dim-witted and immature journalists, and, though I know better, when I find myself staring into the black-hole that is the comments following, well… anything. It comes from a place where your personal safety is being threatened and that can really get you arced up. Nevertheless, the whole discussion of cycling in a social and/or political sense is all too often clouded in a positively negative framework.

So, I understand it, but how much is that helping as opposed to hindering our attempts to get cycling into a position where it is normalized amoungst non-cyclists? Could there be a way to change the way we interact with the general public so as not to fan the flames of every bit of click-bait, every simple-minded, cyclist-hating motorist spouting off on social media, every “opinion piece” from newspapers telling us quite matter-of-factly that cycling is merely a boil on the ass of society?

There must be, and I feel that, in fact, there most certainly is. The entire discussion surrounding cycling needs to turn from its negative, antagonistic, argumentative, and combative framework and towards a positive, cooperative, and inclusive one. It may seem like an insignificant element, but I think it is crucial for the integration of cycling into the fabric of our society at large. It will take more effort, demand more creativity, and more than likely more patience, but I think that the long-term gains will be real and significant.

I’m not suggesting that this is the only approach we take. I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone all of a sudden turns into a dreadfully syrupy, naive, head-in-the-clouds sucker who only want to be nice to everyone regardless of the context. This is a serious business, where our quality of life and some people’s actual lives are at stake. Sometimes stern words must be said, but they mustn’t be said in a way that draws battle lines. If this is going to work, we need to cooperate.

There isn’t much more to what I have to say here today. It’s been a busy week, I just got home late from my last crit of the year, and I don’t have the time or energy to flush this out any further tonight, so take this as an introduction to something that I’ll come back to with some regularity from now one.

Of course, feel free to contribute any and all thoughts on the matter in the comments below.


Header image: Steven Depolo/Flickr