Someone relayed some of their thoughts to me quite recently about what I do here, and on my ride home from work today as I was dwelling on it, one thought led to the next, and I ended up thinking about the language I sometimes slip into on these pages. In particular, language that sounds an awful lot like Us vs Them.
It’s not helpful. I don’t like it. Putting individuals into two big piles of us vs them divides people and inflames the differences in a way that inevitably infers that someone is better than someone else. It’s the last thing that anyone interested in creating a better community needs to do.
There are some really good reasons why cyclists get really upset about the issues that concern them. There are some really good reasons why motorists get really upset about the issues that concern them, and the same with pedestrians, of course. It is frustrating that, if most people are like me (which I hope, because I’d hate to find out that I’m an especially bad person…), they go through their lives looking out for themselves first, albeit unconsciously and without malice. Our focus on self-preservation has been well removed from merely keeping ourselves alive each day in the more developed parts of the world, so our concern for self has become increasingly superficial. Instead of believing that you are more deserving of not being killed by that large animal over there, it often gets reduced to believing that you are more deserving of getting in front of that other car or cyclist or pedestrian even though there is no long-term (or short-term) material gain to be had whatsoever.
So, we all have concerns, we all believe them to be valid, and everyone would prefer things their way.
That’s fine, but conflict actually tends to be easier to solve for when we actually listen to the other party and really try to understand their position. Sometimes I forget my goals with The Sticky Bidon and start to sound like someone who sees the issues in black and white. Polarizing views, making generalizations. Saying them. And us. Sure, it might be easier than qualifying every statement down to the last detail, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not counterproductive.
I always wanted The Sticky Bidon to be helpful, to get more people cycling, to help bring reason into the conversation, to help non-cyclists hate cycling less and help cyclists help themselves, and to maybe get a little more awareness into both sides of the debate. Where people can go to share ideas and come up with solutions. Where we can think through the challenges that cyclists face as well as those that cycling causes.
I worry now and then about this in my writing. That it’s too negative. That it’s just whingeing. That I’m just preaching to the choir and causing those who might identify with them to just shut off or become reinforced in their opinions of us. That I’m undermining my own agenda each and every time I fall back on lazy generalizations.
It’s easy to forget the outside world when you see it from such a small perspective. I have been cycling for most of my life, a few years with a car here, a few without one there, and exclusively as a means of transportation for about the last 6 years now. It would be easy to think that with the increased perspective that cyclists claim to have regarding their surroundings, not being trapped in the climate-controlled, sterile, passive, and powerful automatic vehicles, that I should be more understanding and empathetic to all. I wish that were the case. I still think about myself first on more occasions than I am happy with, and I can’t even say that most of them on the bike are purely out of survival. There are always situations where the us’s are no better than the them’s.
Anyway, I just wanted to remind everyone, and especially myself, of what I would like this space to aspire to. That rather than simply reaffirming my/our own positions and concerns as cyclists as the only ones that matter, that we realize that our concerns exist in a complex matrix of other concerns of equal importance to other people. Us vs them is fine and dandy if you are looking for flared tempers and closed minds, but I’m not. Really. And if (when) I do, I hope someone will call me on it.
That doesn’t mean that we need to aim to please everybody, as we all know that you can’t. Compromises have to be made somewhere, and I happen to believe that given the situation our world finds itself in (and the fact that cycling is just better…), the ability to drive and park everywhere needs to compromise more than cycling and walking, but there are better ways of arguing your point than oversimplifying the matter and leaving rationality at the door.
So, get frustrated. Get mad. Argue. Take a stand. Fight for what you believe in, but when you arrive at us vs them, take a second and think about whether or not that’s helpful, or fair, or realistic, or the best way to engage those you are hoping to win over.
I’ll try too…
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