Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Us and Them: Build Your Own War Zone – or not…

The local papers have been addressing bicycling issues lately, which is largely good, except when they make everything sound so fraught with conflict, as papers are wont to do. A topic doesn’t qualify as a story unless they can identify people who are mad at each other, and then the theme goes, “See the unhappy people. See the people hate each other. See the people fight.”

I sure found that out when I was freelancing.
“Could you get more dirt on this?”
Uh, no, actually, I can’t. That’s all the dirt they’d give me.
“Oh, but come on. There must have been some hot potato reason why (bla-bla-bla)..”
The people were nice. They’re over it.
“Over what, though?”
They want to stay on good terms.
“But they haven’t been on good terms so far, have they?”
They don’t want to air their laundry in the press. They just want to get along.

Clearly I’m not cut out to be a news reporter. That’s why I usually stuck with feature writing.

“Angry Drivers Call ‘Bike Safety’ an Oxymoron,” griped a recent Tribune headline. People wrote in, many of them responding with the requisite anger to the tone set by the paper.

It's common to make sweeping general statements about bicyclists as if they were a special breed of people. Like, They whiz right through the stop lights! Or, They weave in and out of traffic!


Yes, that’s me alright. Whizzing through stop lights at the speed of fire. Playing chicken with the cars. Doesn’t that sound like me?

Someone will see three people do that in a day, and next thing you know, it’s everybody. This kind of thinking is exactly how bigot-ness happens:

The most salient members of any group are noticeable precisely because they’re behaving weirdly. The plain ones are not noticed because their behavior is ordinary. The ordinary ones don’t register on the consciousness of the unthinking observer. “If I can’t see them, they must not exist,” assumes the unthinking observer, who is perhaps not very bright. Even though the nutty ones invariably make up a percentage way too small to be representative, the unthinking observer blanketly projects the weird behaviors he’s noticed onto the entire group.

That’s it in a nutshell, from Margaret Mud herself.

See? This is what they mean when they say you create your own reality. It’s become a tiresome phrase that unfortunately has been cheapened by rampant mis-application, but this is what it really means.

You have this view of the world in place, your particular set of beliefs cast in stone that you refuse to re-assess because you’ve invested so deeply in arriving at them. If you were to look carefully at them you’d run into unbearable pain, and remodeling them would way too much work. So you stick with what you already know, and you proceed to project it out there and create it all around you, even if it wasn’t like that before you arrived on the scene.

Are we still talking about bicycling? Yes we are. Everything is about everything and everybody. Drivers are cyclists some of the time, and cyclists are drivers some of the time. We’re all just a bunch of people trying to get somewhere, ok?

I’m making a list of the questions and complaints drivers have about cyclists and vice versa, so I can respond to each of them. Please post any that you have, or that you hear people say or ask. I’ll restate the two above to begin the list. Bring it on. Let Sister Mary Bicycle explain it all to you!

1. They whiz right through the stop lights.
2. They weave in and out of traffic.


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