Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hi David! Hi Corey! Part One

This two-part column from the January 2011 CityBike (motorcycle magazine) is a record of an online conversation among my buddies David, Corey and me. Part Two will appear next month. Part One begins with a note from me to David and Corey:

Hi guys!
As I talk with friends here, I realize that, unlike them, I interpret peoples' acts as purposeful. We were talking about people who continue driving at the speed limit in the lane that ends in 100 yards, ignoring the Lane Ends signs as if they did not see them. Then they cut-in back into the continuing lane at the last moment, getting ahead of six or eight cars by doing so.

Or people who stop their cars across the pedestrian crosswalk as you step into the street. Quiet street, one car, one pedestrian. As those drivers watch for an opportunity to enter the intersection, they pretend they don't see you, your progress blocked by their vehicle.

It's my conviction that those drivers know exactly what they're doing, though most would deny it. They know they're pushy and self-important. They don't care. They feel anonymous in their cars. They wouldn't do it in a movie line or at the bank where they can be confronted about their impatience and audacity.

My friends say that those people are oblivious, only thinking about getting to work. They're not jerks. Oh, maybe they're the least bit selfish or Type-A. They're just drivers, my friends insist, who figure everyone would do the same given the same pressures, real or imagined. If we told those drivers that people see them as taking advantage, the drivers would say that couldn't be true. Take advantage? Me? No way.

If we believe that people are often oblivious, those drivers are off the hook. They didn't realize. Seemed okay to them, what they did. They were just driving to work. By extension, if they blow through an intersection just after the yellow and something happens, or if they turn left across someone's path and something happens, those occasions are called accidents.

No one's fault, really. Just driving to work. Mistakes are made. Doesn't make me a bad person or bad driver.

I'm not going for it. I don't believe people just go through the motions in life, on autopilot, just mindlessly driving to work. I believe they know what they're doing and make serial decisions about what to do next. I think that's what separates us from the animals. When I see someone riding a bicycle the wrong way on the wrong side of a busy urban one-way street, I assume that person chose to do that very thing.

I don't believe he or she lacked education or "just didn't know any better." Everyone knows better. The arrows point the opposite way.

It's easy to plead inattention afterward. It's easy to say, oh I didn't realize or I didn't see him or her, but those are cheap excuses, my dog ate my homework kinda excuses. Unlike teachers who've heard it too many times, we let people lie to us and cut them endless slack. We make it easy for them to make those excuses, to tell us convenient, glib lies.

They tell untruths or omit the truth - and insult us by expecting us to believe them. We say, oh, man, your dog ate your term paper. Sucks, dude.

I think the contrast between how my friends feel and how I feel reveals a basic philosophical difference about how we think about other people. Maybe it's driver thinking versus pedestrian/cyclist/motorcyclist thinking. Help me understand this....

your friend                 Maynard

From David:
I appreciate your example of someone trying to get a few car-lengths advantage. I see it frequently. It's everyday driver behavior. Of course it's conscious, deliberate behavior. As you say, "people know what they're doing and make serial decisions about what to do next. I think that's what separates us from the animals." Those serial decisions are how we put one foot in front of the other.

Another thing separating us from the animals is our ability to come up with reasons for just about anything we do and actually believe those reasons. Your friends seem to believe that obliviousness is a reason. Because you can say that doesn't make it true. It's nonsense to say, "People are oblivious and are only thinking about getting to work." 

Humans aren't oblivious. Humans are selfish, greedy, inconsiderate. Obliviousness is the result not the reason. Maynard, I'm sure your friends are nice folks and good friends so please forgive me if I'm coming across harshly.
your friend          David

From Corey:
Thanks for sending those notes. I've read them a few times and I'm not sure how to respond. They point out to me how differently people view the world. Or maybe not so much view the world, as relate to the world. You and David are discussing the intentions and motivations of complete strangers. Without communicating with them, how can you really know? You can only make assumptions and projections.

My view is: What difference does it make what their motivations or intentions are? Their actions may have an impact on me, but my response doesn't really depend on their motivation.

If they cut me off in an oblivious or impolite way, I can assume that they saw me and that it was intentional. If that's the case, I do what? Flip them off? Confront them? Politely ask them to be more careful next time? I don't think any of those options will change their behavior.

If I assume they did not see me, then evidently they are just poor drivers, distracted or not paying attention. Do I yell at them and tell them to get smarter? I wish such drivers were not on the road, but they are.

I assume they're all rude, preoccupied or oblivious. I ride as if I were invisible. I expect drivers to do the most dangerous, bone-headed thing they can possibly do under the circumstances and I prepare myself. That way, I'm pleasantly surprised when they don't screw up - or ready when they do.

To me, they're just like buoys torn loose from their moorings, navigational hazards which can kill me, regardless of their motivation or mindset. I try not to see their souls or understand their urges, I just give them wide berth. It keeps my blood pressure lower if I treat them as objects rather than individuals.

Having said that, as I think about it, sometimes when I see some cretin trying to jump the line, I intentionally close the gap on him to show him that not ALL the other drivers are saps. Sometimes his little ploy won't work. Hey, I try to be above it all, but nobody's perfect.

your friend                Corey

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