Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK Day Thoughts

As I was riding today, I was thinking about the fact that it's MLK Day ... not because the banks are all closed and there's no mail or shipping ... but because his most famous speech about having a dream of change, and his death at the hands of extreme prejudice, have, in fact, helped to bring about a great deal of change in this country, and perhaps the world. We have a President who isn't a white dude from a long history of white dudes who were also politicians (although the current list of Republican candidates would love to see that revert). We have leaders in various positions around the country who are women, and others who come from quite diverse cultural backgrounds.

When I think about the way things were back when MLK was alive, it seems astonishing and shameful that our country (and our world) was ever like that, and even worse when we look back further in time. It really wasn't all that long ago that people were denied the use of a restroom or service in a restaurant or a seat on a bus, merely because of the color of their skin ... or that people were beaten, hung from trees, and burned alive for being the wrong color or having the wrong religious affiliation. Adolf Hitler was mass-murdering people in an attempt to completely eliminate anyone who wasn't the same color or had  different religious beliefs than him. And some people still believe none of that ever actually happened. Further back in time, but not too much further in the history of our fine country, the Native Americans were brutally forced from the land that was theirs, virtually extinguished in the process, told to adopt our way of life or face prison and/or execution. This, of course, was in the name of progress for the new America ... which was supposedly founded to achieve freedom from oppression. I guess that was THEIR freedom from oppression, not the oppression they placed on others. Oh, and let's not forget the founding fathers of our country who also "owned" many slaves, who were forcibly taken from their homes in other parts of the world to become the "property" of wealthy landowners here ... also told to adopt our ways or be executed. Think about that for a moment. Only 150 years ago, it was considered perfectly okay to own another human being as property here in America. Guess what? It still works that way in other parts of the world ... here, too, although it's not legal or approved of ... covered up until somebody finds out.

While we've made great strides in many areas, the world as a whole still has an enormous amount of prejudice and extreme hatred. To think that someone hates who you are/where you live/what you believe enough that they would commit suicide in order to kill you and your family is thoroughly appalling. And yet, that mentality still exists. The question that has existed forever is ... "why?"

I'm not really sure, but some thoughts were running through my head as I rode today.

The issues of bigotry and prejudice that lead to extreme hatred seem to exist from day one in our lives, and I think they stem from not being able to accept that there can be more than one right answer to any question.  It works sort of like this:

Every group of people has their own set of values and beliefs, or what is "right" and "proper". Whatever goes against the values and beliefs of a particular group is considered "wrong" by its members. That's fine with me ... I think it's good to have values and beliefs, and a sense of right and wrong. For example, if your social group/family/religious affiliation believes you should only eat foods that begin with the letter "P" and that you should only wear brown shoes, that's perfectly fine. If you want to remain a part of that group, then eat lots of pizza and pasta, and make sure you stick to the more traditional Birkenstock colourway. If you prefer to eat chicken and rice, and want to don your pink Chuck Taylors, then you'll have to find another group or simply head out on your own to establish your own set of values. Maybe others will even join your new group, because they want the same things. So far, so good.

Here's where it gets twisted. When a group believes their values and beliefs are the ONLY way, and that any person or group who doesn't share those values and beliefs is wrong, and therefore "bad" or "evil", then we have the beginning of prejudice and bigotry, especially when a group's value set includes a requirement for a member to be of a certain color or cultural background, or even a certain physical appearance. When taken to the extreme, this turns into violence and war ... to kill anyone who isn't the same as you are, or at least prevent them from sharing the same neighborhood and infecting your children. "Swear allegiance or die" and "Convert or die" have been common threats throughout time. It exists on the playgrounds at elementary schools and on the street corners in Detroit and Los Angeles ... and, unfortunately, in many homes of "regular" folks around the world.

What people don't seem to get ... EVER ... is that there can be multiple value sets ... an infinite number of them. What's right for one may not be right for another. What's wrong for one may not be wrong for another. The fact that someone does not believe the same as you or look the same as you should not threaten your own values. And yet, it strikes fear into the hearts of so many ... leading to hatred and violence. Sadly, it is often only after such violence that the world takes notice of the problem. Perhaps that's part of how we slowly ... very, very slowly ... evolve as a species.

Yes, there's a line. When your value set says that you can walk through my door and tell me that how I live is wrong, you've crossed the line, mister.  I don't do that to you ... don't do it to me. And I'm not talking about the laws of our country or the city and state where you live. Those things are in place for a reason, and hopefully arrived at by popular vote, and they can be changed in the same way. But for my personal beliefs and life choices, as long as they're legal and don't affect you, what gives you the right to tell me they're wrong? What would give me the right to do the same to you? Nothing. There is always more than one right answer. Science has proven over and over again that just when we think we know everything, we find something that shows us we don't. Does 1 + 1 always equal 2? Not if you're working in a binary numeric system. See ... that's what I'm getting at. It has something to do with perspective.

What does any of this have to do with bicycles? I'm glad you asked. Nice segue, huh?

One of the things that popped into my head as I was riding and thinking about prejudice is how people who ride bikes seem to have a lot of that very thing. Well, I should say "cyclists" often do. "People who ride bikes" are a different breed, and are the ones who smile and wave as they pass, ride varying types of bikes, and generally aren't in a huge hurry to get where they're going (although they can be coerced into a grinning sprint at any moment). "Cyclists", on the other hand, are always in a hurry, always have a "suffer face" (regardless of their speed), always ride a race bike, and almost always ignore me when I smile and wave or say hello in passing.  I've determined that this is all because being a "cyclist" means that if you're on a bike, you're "training", and can't be bothered with social trivialities. So, I suppose that might mean that they aren't necessarily exhibiting "prejudice", just being "preoccupied". But what I seem to experience is that even when off the bike and talking with a "cyclist", they seem to have an attitude of "Oh ... yeah, you ride an upright cruiser type bike", as though I couldn't possibly be serious about cycling when I don't ride a race bike. Of course, my use of the generic word "cyclist" to describe a certain group of people is in itself a form of prejudice, so I suppose I'm not immune to predisposition. I mean no offense to those who call themselves cyclists and are nothing like my description above.

And then there's the local bike shop. Go in almost any bike shop and ask someone to show you what kind of bike a "serious cyclist" might ride. I'll bet you'll almost never see a bike like mine. If you then showed them a picture of my bike and asked them what kind of rider would own this bike, my guess is that "serious cyclist" would not be among the words spoken. You see, to the mainstream, "serious" is equated with "race" when it comes to cycling and bicycle types.

And have you ever looked at the comments on some of the popular bicycle blogs? Holy cow ... I've rarely witnessed such vicious attacks, only because someone uses a component that isn't of their liking or doesn't fit their impression of a proper match to the frame being discussed. They range from being mildly sarcastic to outright calling someone a "f___king idiot" for using what they feel is the wrong part, or for the way a company designed the appearance of a component. Look up "helmet use" on bike blogs and witness the horrible debate over something that's simply a personal safety choice.

Prejudice is rampant in every walk of life. Some might say it's just a part of life, but I'm hopeful that our world is indeed changing. When I was growing up, there was no Internet. What we learned, we learned from books, the local news, and whatever we were told by those around us, which can be a pretty small circle of information, depending on where you lived at the time. Now ... wherever you are, you have instant access to information from around the globe, from an infinite number of perspectives. Despite its shortcomings, the Internet can be a very good thing. If you can begin with (and maintain) an open mind and explore a broad range of those perspectives, you can actually start to see what's really happening and form your own opinions ... not just those that were force fed to you as a child as being the only way to think. You can begin to see the many answers to what is right and what is wrong ... and maybe we can begin to build some common ground on which to live peacefully, without judging and condemning others for having a different perspective. Separation isn't the answer ... and trying to make everyone the same isn't the answer. It is our individuality that makes the world a beautiful and interesting place.  Do you really want everyone to be the same? I don't. If that were true, we'd never have any new music or new art or new fashion ... and that would be a shame. Those things come from seeing the world through different eyes, and we can't have that if everyone is forced to view the world in the same way.

I am grateful for MLK, Gandhi, Lincoln and all the others who devoted their life to peaceful change. I hope there will be more like them ... and I hope that as our world changes and evolves, we gain a deeper understanding of right and wrong in a broader sense ... in a more humane sense ... in a way that lets people from all cultures be who they are without fear of being murdered for it ... to appreciate those who are different than we are and have the ability to see the world from those different perspectives.

One of the reasons I write this blog is to offer a different perspective on what riding a bike means. You don't have to ride a race bike or wear a scuba suit or shoes that lock your feet to the pedals. You don't have to make every ride a training event. You don't have to race or ever want to. You don't have to monitor your heart rate, speed, and cadence. You don't have to do ANYTHING that anyone tells you you have to do in order to be a "serious cyclist". But ... you can if you want to. Because it's all about what works for you and what makes you happy on the bike. My Hunqapillar is a perfect example. It doesn't conform to any of the typical bicycle classifications. It's not a road bike. It's not a mountain bike. It's not a touring bike. It's not a commuter bike. It has elements of all of them, and can go where any of them go, but isn't limited to any category, which is what confuses many people who feel the need to place a label on it, and therefore me as the person who rides it. While it could be built in many other forms, the components I have selected make it work perfectly for me and the riding I do. It is unique, complements my style, and makes me smile when I ride it. That's my hope for anyone out there who wants to ride a bike. Find what works for you. Whatever makes you smile at the beginning of the ride, the middle of the ride, and the end of the ride ... and what balances your riding with the rest of your life ... that's what's right for you ... your Velo Zen!

Thanks for reading my rambling thoughts ... now go ride and do some rambling of your own!

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