The Nerve

Preach, Rudolph 

I wanted to create this blog because in my circle of local friends I am the only one I know who is a dogged four-season bike commuter, let alone with kids. In my immediate and extended family, I am the only one I know who is a dogged four-season bike commuter, let alone with kids (okay, there's also the guy sitting on the other end of the couch, but except for him). There are other folks on bikes in my town in all seasons and all conditions. There are more when the weather is good. There's a metal scrapper in our neighborhood (actually I've seen him all over the city), who drives a cargo bike. We always wave and try to exchange a few words. Some families roll with Burleys and such. For the most part though I feel like a total alien from outer space, and sometimes being an alien is hard on the nerve.

I have a weird relationship with attention. I'm a comfortable enough public speaker but that's usually in a controlled setting when I've had chance to think about what I'd like to say. I have yet to learn fully how to deal gracefully with the number of people who notice my helmet or the green bike and comment. As I wrote earlier, I've grown to accept the reality that arriving with two preschoolers on a cargo bike more often than not will necessitate at least some level of cargo bike ambassador work. But for me, I'm also just making another trip to the grocery store.

An answer I'd like to give sometimes
I tend to default to active listening. I recently told a group of elementary school students that active listening was a super power that they too could learn with practice. Caregivers and leaders of all stripes learn active listening, the ability to attend fully to someone else without interrupting, getting distracted, or waiting until they're done so that you can speak next. It allows us to learn more about each other, to check assumptions, to find points of shared interest, to build relationships, and to find positive resolutions to conflict. It has even been proven to have the potential for profound therapeutic effect on the one being listened to. With the active listening tool in my tool belt (this tool is best when sharpened by actually taking care of myself so that I remember to use it!), I feel better prepared for
most any situation with people in which I find myself. I really do think it might be a super power.

However, in my short interactions with folks around bicycles the questions are all coming at me, at least to start. I can play my conversational jujitsu and turn the questions around pretty quickly most of the time. But the more I think and write about bikes, the more clear I become on the short pieces of information I think folks could really use or might be asking to hear (once a teacher...). That's part of why I wanted to write this blog. If I'm going to go more or less car-free, I want to be able to explain myself--at least to myself. If I can say why I am choosing to make such different choices from the world around me, maybe it will help me keep my nerve and my compassion. Also, I am the kind of person who defaults to solving problems in two ways: #1 read about it and #2 write about it (#3 phone a friend and repeat).

Assumptions are helpful for making shortcuts in human social interactions. If we didn't make assumptions sometimes, we'd be standing in the checkout line all day. However, assumptions also cause conflict, undergird biases, and keep us from thinking creatively.

I feel like in my immediate social circles and on the streets I travel, the predominant assumption is that the best means of transportation for 95% of trips is the car--99% in a midwest winter. I am making different choices for myself and for my family. So, quite often I find myself dealing with the assumption that because I am making different choices, my choices are wrong.
slowing down helps us check assumptions too

Don't get me wrong, some folks ask really kind and curious questions. I generally don't mind if a congregant asks if they can take me home in their car when the weather looks like doomsday. I generally appreciate conversations about bicycles in the library and grocery store parking lot. It's when the questions turn into lectures, a person does not seem to respect my prerogative to decline a ride offer, or I am reminded about basic safety precautions multiple times, that I start to lose either my compassion or my nerve.

Being different is not easy. Being different or making different choices than the majority of those around you seem to be making can be hard, no matter what realm of our lives that difference is in. Just because something or someone one is different from "the norm" doesn't make it wrong. Indeed, there is no "norm," because none of us is exactly the same, and that's a good thing. The choices that are good for me, may not be good for you and vice versa.  I have learned that from gender and sexuality to race and ethnicity to religious identity, belief, and practice to matters too numerous to name, trying to contort ourselves into a box of sameness or a system of hierarchy leads to heartache and often violence. Rather, I feel that we do better when we listen to each other and ask curious questions about our differences, all while valuing our own voices and beings too (listening to yourself--also a super power).

Questioning assumptions and the status quo has been required of all the major human rights gains in history. It has given us all the major inventions. It has given us some of the best art forms. Why should it be so scary? Maybe it's because questioning assumptions leads us into the unknown and unearths shortcomings. But like the painful cleaning of an infected wound, it's the only way to get better. I for one, would really rather you question my harmful assumptions (and I make plenty of them!) than allow me to keep wallowing in my own disease. I promise to try to listen actively and respond compassionately when you do.

So, go ahead, ask me why I rode my bike to work in a rain storm. Ask me why I load my children up (heavily bundled) on the Yuba in frigid temps. Ask me why I think it might just work to sell my car. I'm working on the answers and your respectful curiosity might help us both to grow together. If you listen to my point of view, I will even be okay with your respectful disagreement. Just be prepared for me to ask the same respectfully curious questions of you.

Like I said, reading and writing help me find the nerve to be different. But riding my bike in the city every day does the same thing. It helps me practice every day with every pedal stroke holding strong in my difference while having compassion for others. When I can do this, I take up a safe amount of space (out of the door zone), I wave even at people who honk, and I solidify my nerve to be me.


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