Sometimes I have a go at people who think they are morally superior because they ride a bike. That they are better people than those in cars. There are so many cyclists I see that act like brutes, selfish, without an apparent care in the world for others while they ride, and clearly some of them are the same in the rest of their lives. The person in the car, conversely, could just as likely be an extremely kind, caring, and generous person in their daily lives.
Clearly, taking one aspect of someone’s life on its own is not enough to gain an understanding of their overall character. Whether or not they are “good” or “bad” is an equation that is constantly being recalculated, able to change in a moments notice with nothing more than an internal revelation or new-found commitment brought on by an otherwise banal and outwardly invisible occurrence that influences their actions or indeed, changes the direction of their entire life.
But, anyway, we cannot, except in rare cases, truly know the heart of an individual, nor indeed could we deign to know what effect the past has had, nor the future will hold, for a person’s character. For that matter, I am quite certain that a person is never (and never will be) perfectly “good” or “bad” entirely, but is rather an ever-changing ratio of the two, one way or the other. There is a little good or bad in all of us.
What brought this on today was a post from the Australian Cyclist Party regarding the Encyclical Letter from Pope Francis, On Care For Our Common Home. Pope Francis is really quite something. Religious or not, he’s increasingly relevant to people of all stripes. These excerpts will give you the gist, but it’s worth a read in full (it’s not short):
1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.
2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.
Nothing in this world is indifferent to us…
44. Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature…
150. Given the interrelationship between living space and human behaviour, those who design buildings, neighbourhoods, public spaces and cities, ought to draw on the various disciplines which help us to understand people’s thought processes, symbolic language and ways of acting. It is not enough to seek the beauty of design. More precious still is the service we offer to another kind of beauty: people’s quality of life, their adaptation to the environment, encounter and mutual assistance. Here too, we see how important it is that urban planning always take into consideration the views of those who will live in these areas…
153. The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas which spoil the urban landscape. Many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation. Yet some measures needed will not prove easily acceptable to society unless substantial improvements are made in the systems themselves, which in many cities force people to put up with undignified conditions due to crowding, inconvenience, infrequent service and lack of safety.
I’ve made you read enough, so I’ll make my point brief (besides, you can probably already guess what I’m going to say…).
Cycling, and not cyclists, really is a morally superior mode of transportation. It doesn’t magically make you a better person, but it does contribute to a better way to live, not only for you, but for everyone around you.
Our leaders need to know, need to be convinced, that they are morally and not just legally obliged to care for their constituency, as well as the environment that they must live in.
The reasons why cars are beneficial for nothing aside from covering longer distances efficiently and doing so in nearly all weather conditions (beneficial indeed), but detrimental in every other aspect, and the reasons why cycling is so beneficial, are obvious, and has been covered at length by many other people.
What Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ conveys is the moral imperative behind how you choose to get yourself around from A to B, and how we design our communities with this in mind.
It’s important to remember, on the one hand, that just because a person rides a bike or drives a car (even a fast one), they cannot be judged to be better or worse. On the other hand, as the world becomes increasingly over-populated, increasingly devoid of natural resources, increasingly polluted, increasingly stressed, and as social and economic inequality becomes increasingly exacerbated, it is also extremely important to realize the potential of one mode of transport – cycling – to aid in alleviating all of these problems.
Cars serve only their owners. Bicycles serve the community. Think about that next time you are feeling morally superior.
Header image: source