Wednesday, October 31

Mind Your Manners

While watching the presidential debates something became painful apparent to me. No, not that R-Money is an android. We already knew that. Or that Obama is black. I voted for him in '08 so I wouldn't seem to be a racist. So, I already knew that too.

I realized (or better articulated in thought) that we are a country devoid of manners. Both the president and the president wanna-be talked over each other, cut each other off, cut the moderator off, and ignored all of the rules of the debate. It was, in short, a swirling toilet of rudeness that we were forced as a country to accept as a valid debate between the two men seeking to rule the country for the next four years.

The notion has been percolating on the stovetop of my mind ever since. This morning it all came together in context for me. The whole "car vs bike" issue really isn't about rights, infrastructure, bike licensing, or car hating. It's all about bad manners.

Cyclists often choose to curse or gesture at rude motorists, and motorists often choose to buzz, or otherwise harass cyclists that "impede" their progress upon the roads. It's not because we lack the space to all get along together. It's because we are annoyed and project our frustrations actively onto other human beings.

In no arena is this more prevalent than on the roads. Because on the roads we believe we can cast the Parthian Shot and go on back into anonymous obscurity. We're deluding ourselves, of course, because motorists have license plates and cyclists typically cannot escape from a motorist that is bent on catching up with them.

Most of us, having cut our teeth at personal transportation behind the wheel of the car, are well versed in the protective anonymity the steel and glass shell of the car provides. It gives us false courage. The power we feel under the ball of our right foot gives us unearned bravado.

That power, combined with our complete and total dismissal of the seriousness of driving a motor vehicle equals a very wretched environment in which to travel for all types of users.

One time I had a diminutive young "lady" try to start a fight with me because I smacked the trunk of her car after she almost clipped me with her car while talking on her cell phone. Admittedly, I could have let it go, but I am of the mind that we need to be calling people out for wandering aimlessly through the world with cell phones growing out of their heads. It should not be socially acceptable to be so oblivious all the time. Cell phone caused behavior like we see today would have branded people in pre-cell phone times as the village idiots.

We don't take driving seriously enough. We don't have reasonable understanding of responsibility toward one another. In short, we don't have good manners. Road rage is a symptom of this epidemic of bad manners.

Bike Snob writes in his surprisingly level headed The Enlightened Cyclist:

"Commuting is one of the only arenas of life in which we're willing to accept sudden death at the hands of another human being.

All of this is also the reason that, in our highly refined and abstracted age, the simple business of getting from one place to another is one of the remaining areas of life in which a perfect stranger might scream at another." --Bike Snob NYC

So why are we okay with this? And is there anything we can truly do about bad manners on the roads?

To the second question: yes, we can each do our best to inject good manners into the karmic pot. If you practice considerate driving/cycling you may encourage others to do the same, or at least, you won't validate poor behavior by adding your energy to the storm.

Are we okay with bad behavior and bad manners? I'm not. I doubt you are either. But culturally it would seem that we've either given up, or have incorporated inconsiderate speech and actions into our daily lives subconsciously.

If I had the choice (I don't) I would vote for the candidate that had exhibited good manners during the campaign process.

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