More often than we might be comfortable with, we are role models. As cyclists we often hear that we need to be law abiding and courteous at all times and to everyone, because it’s only hurting our public image and making our relationship with motorists that much more difficult.
That’s all well and good, and there is validity to this line of thought, but today it might do us some good to consider how we model our behaviour to those that we consider our allies rather than our enemies. Our kids. Friends. Strangers. Our riding buddies. Random fellow-cyclists. On some level we are helping to shape the behaviour not only of those that are close to us, but almost anyone who can use what we do to justify their own behaviour.
Now, we are not responsible for the actions of others, right? That depends. Not directly, of course, and probably not even ultimately, unless you force someone into something. There is something to be considered, however, in discussing the part we play in shaping the behaviour of others, and how that effects society as a whole.
Some people are islands. They make their own minds up about everything. They are not pressured or influenced into doing or saying or thinking things just because others do, or merely because it is popular.
The rest of us aren’t so strong. I know what you’re thinking: “that still doesn’t make me responsible for what others do!”, and you’d be right. You’re not, but does that mean that we shouldn’t consider our actions?
Take a look at this brilliant ad from TAC Victoria:
What we do does have an effect on what others do, or say, or think, whether it is directly our fault or not.
These things happen in even the most banal of situations, every day of our lives. When I am just having a social chat with someone about, anything really, and we start complaining about someone and one of us starts to villainize or belittle them because they annoy or offend us, the other person willingly joins in, even if, upon reflection, they would normally think better of it.
When I am out and about on foot, and am waiting patiently at an intersection for my legal right of way to cross, sometimes when there is no or very little traffic coming someone else will head across the road, and I will then follow suit. The old, “that person did it, so it’s ok for me to do it”.
We could come up with as many examples as there are people. For our purposes here I’ll keep it to cycling (with a special mention to driving).
If you ride in bunches, you are a role model, influencing your cohorts directly by taking the lane unnecessarily, hugging the kerb unnecessarily, rushing roundabouts, pushing the pace, not pocketing your garbage, yelling “CLEAR!” at 5:00am in a residential area, running red lights or rushing amber ones, cutting single-track, etc, etc. The same can be said of responsible, positive behaviour, though it is wise to keep in mind that negative has greater impact than positive.
If you ride individually recreationally or simply during the commute or to the shops, you are less directly (but still effectively) a role model by influencing those who also cycle by doing most of the above, and weaving onto and off of the footpath as it suits you, passing other cyclists too closely, salmoning, shoaling, using your phone while riding, etc, etc. The same can be said of responsible, positive behaviour.
We almost always have the responsibility of conducting ourselves in a way that doesn’t encourage others to be bad. This sounds like the opposite of what I was saying yesterday in regards to mutual respect, but respect as a personal goal is a good thing, whereas collective respect as a political policy rather than safe road design is folly.
What’s keeping us from being a positive role model, and coaxing us into being influenced by bad ones? Group dynamics, says Justin Coulson, via Cycling Tips. More specifically, “group norms, combined with deindividuation”, and a lack of awareness, which is just another way of saying self-centred.
As I’m thinking about this, it becomes quite clear that this idea of being a positive role model is tied to so many topics that are massive and contentious discussions on their own. We would have to debate, most significantly, what actions are right or wrong, acceptable or not, which laws are really worth keeping and which need enforcing.
We’re not going to solve this (here). Not even close. Perhaps, then, all I want to say here is that we need to think about how our actions can influence others. Not on a grand scale, because that is a somewhat weak argument (though not invalid), but on a personal scale. Like the video above, we should primarily be cognizant of the influence we have on those that are in our direct sphere and most influenced by our actions.
Run your group rides responsibly. Go ahead and proceed through a red light if there is nobody around at 5:00am, but don’t do it right in front of a queue of cars or other cyclists. Care for your mountain bike trails. Ring your bell. Say hi. Don’t sit on someone’s wheel that you don’t know. Just try to be the best role model for cycling that you can be. You know, just be a good person, because it does matter, and it does make a difference.
Header image: source