The Rear View Mirror Paradox

People often speak of how “things are different now” as though the entire world has changed and only they have stayed the same.  It is a refrain I have heard my entire life especially from, shall we say, more mature persons.  Now that there is gray in my beard I notice I even say it time to time although there seems to be a differentiating dependent clause attached to “things are different now” and it can go opposite ways.  It reads like this:

“Things are different now, they were better…”

or

“Things are different now, ain’t it cool?”

To my experience there’s a school of thought that turns to positive reflection and negative vision; people offer that the best is in the rear-view mirror and they appear to focus on what ‘has been’ not ‘what is’.  In motorcycling this a bad, bad habit.  If you devote too much attention to the mirrors (especially at inappropriate times) you place yourself at intense risk in the right now and the immediate future.  Do I check my mirrors?  Dang straight, only a fool never looks back!  At stoplights I’ll pay extra attention to make sure what’s behind me doesn’t send me into the glorious, heavenly future.  Last time I checked about six percent of motorcycle accidents involved getting smacked from behind.  

How often do riders get struck from behind while moving? I have no idea but I would imagine it’s pretty rare.  Seen it around my neighborhood a couple of times, mostly at night if memory serves.  Riders tend to obsess about stoplights and stacked lanes and that’s not a bad thing because at the end of a long line of cars waiting to turn right at the bottom of an off-ramp if you’re the last guy in line you’re in a spot that should make you uneasy about the next person bailing off the freeway.  

But what about the bulk of your riding time?  Are you checking your six and then getting on with life or are you squinting into the reflection trying to figure out what you missed back there or where you’ve been?  Context is very important in this calculation because you should be worrying about things like:  Where are you? What should you be worried about?  When will you arrive?  How will you deal with things around you?  

This is were transformation comes into play.  I believe that things don’t change that much.  I believe that instead of the world changing around us, we change the way we perceive the world around us.  How is that possible, when there is sooo much change around us?  Simple:  we transform the way we view change itself.  Instead of watching the road in front of us we can become overburdened with looking to the past and then not applying it to the future.

Does that make sense?   I mean to say that as we view the past we don’t accept that what happened, worked, didn’t work are just as applicable today.  As we transform into adults, or middle age, or our golden years, we don’t view the past in any kind of context except “it was different then…it was better then”.  Example:  I have kids in their early twenties.  They tend to stay up too late at night and sleep too late in the day…especially on weekends.  Two major options come to mind in dealing with this; first, I can get angry because today’s youth is soooo irresponsible blah, blah, blah and get all “back in the day” on them OR, I can realize that back in the day I’d stay out way too late at night and then sleep as long as I could get away with.  Things are as they always were.  

‘Nother example:  Teen Pregnancy.  I was listening to my dear mother complain about girls getting knocked up in high school.  Asking, “Didn’t that happen back in the day?” My sainted mother then went on to tell me all about the girl who she knew had been pregnant.  I asked, “What happened to her” and got a “She went to live with relatives in (name your faraway state)”.  My next, best question was, “DId any other girls move to Kansas to help their Aunt/Sister/Grandma with the farm or the new baby or anything like that?”  

Yeah, girls got pregnant in the 1940’s society deals with it differently now.  Girls carry to term and try to stay in school.  The shaming and shunning is gone.  It’s right there in your face now–it doesn’t move to Kansas and return a year later a little broader of hip, world worn or soul weary.  Sure the world has changed how these girls are dealt with but the real question is do you look in the mirror and focus there to fix what’s in front of you?  On a bike our vision to what’s behind us is very, very limited–mostly by ourselves.  Ride a bike and you know what I mean.  

Riders get a wonderful view of their elbows and shoulders as they look into a 3 inch by 4 inch portal to the past, it’s a amazingly myopic view and there’s a time and a place to watch what’s behind you like a hawk.  The paradox is how to use the rear view constructively and not at the expense of the Now and the Future.  Things are not that different back there and what we’ve passed through should be applied to what awaits.  In the past we may have paid a toll but by looking back with longing we often create a vitriol for the future–or even for the people we see paying the toll behind us; how could they not have seen that coming?  The same way you didn’t.

It’s a paradox how to integrate the past into the future without losing our context of the moment.

Be Safe.  

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The Enemy Perfect

After the dreadful events at Newtown I have been catching glimpses of conversations on line and on air and I was particularly struck by something Joe Scarbough (a guy I really respect) said.  I’m not sure he was the first to every say it but credit where credit is due.  He said:

“We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

His point was that we often kill good ideas by pointing out they are not perfect. I realized then that this is a problem that regularly occurs in the motorcycle world.  Yes, motorcycling is connected to everything and this is a connection to where the burning desire to create increased safety gets attacked from the inside and outside.

Take mandated helmet laws, as soon as you offer up that idea you hear things like:  “Yeah, but what about horsepower?  That does nothing about 18 year olds and 150 horse power bikes!”  From rider’s rights folks, essentially saying “It’s not perfect!”  Then if you pay attention you’ll hear someone on the safety side start in with something like, “But that does nothing to address rider training!  We need better riders!”  Which, if you really listen, is both sides saying “It’s not perfect…so let’s not do it.”

Perfect becomes a tool to defeat good and when wielded by both sides it’s a surprisingly effective weapon.

The reason this sticks with me is because I’ve had so many conversations with people where I state my desire to get the little victories like someone who won’t wear a helmet to start wearing gloves and get immediate feedback of “That won’t save their head!”

I am stunningly aware of that.  However my goal isn’t to solve the entire problem in one fell swoop!  My goal is to effect change the way it happens naturally, by increments, bits and pieces. Gloves lead to a place where tennis shoes can become over the ankle boots, then boots become a jacket and a jacket becomes some training and training becomes a helmet and a helmet becomes…well, whatever that final goal is called. Probably an “accomplished rider”.

“It’s not perfect” can kill that evolution.  Perfect is the kryponite of good because it’s a tool you can use to defeat any proposition at all.  Whether you’re curing cancer or cutting costs there’s never a perfect answer which can drive good into the dirt.  Whatever happened to “a good start”.   Did it die?  Oh, wait, “It’s not perfect” killed it.  We seem to seek a panacea or some kind of silver bullet and if we can’t find it we let “it’s not perfect” smother a good idea before it can take a breath.

Should every motorcyclist be trained, wear proper gear and be strikingly aware of their surrounding? What a knuckleheaded question, of course they should.  Is there any one thing that can make that happen in 20 minutes?  I don’t think so.  However, over the course of getting used to full fingered gloves and then enjoying their comfort it becomes easier to make an upgrade to boots and then a jacket and then…well who knows?

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good–take what you can get and build on it.

Feeling Better About Meself!

Whenever I start feeling like my life is overwhelming, that things are just impossibly busy and I’m just being rushed along without time to really enjoy myself I take a moment and I cruise motorcycle forums.  As an activity I know that some of  you are saying, “Ick! How can that be relaxing?”  Allow me a moment and I’ll cast the headlight of knowledge down that dark road.

First, in motorcycle forums you’ll find like minded people, some of whom make some pretty good points and weave a fine tale.  Often you can learn something you didn’t know–but beware of sourcing!  Bike forums can be about as reliable as Wiki information about Justin Bieber or Madonna so remember to evaluate the source.  There’s a large and excellent knowledge base among on line riders but there’s also a lot of bad tradition that is passed off as good practice. Onward.

One of my stress relieving activities is to look for those “How To” threads, the kind that always lead to big arguments involving “experts”.  Take today for example,  I found a perfectly good argument about “How to clean your visor” which in ONE DAY had generated over 61 replies.  There were all sorts of folks on board snapping about chemical compounds in different cleaners, the make up of cloth fibers as opposed to paper pulp products.  OH and adding a scent to a cleaner somehow invalidates the constitution as well as ruining finishes.

It’s positively precious to watch, that’s why I do.  When you think the world is running you over?  Hit the web and you get to realize that your life isn’t overwhelming it’s active and alive!  Think about it!  If you’ve to the time to argue about the effects of petrohydroglycolfructosedingalingalongzide?  You might be a little short on life–if you know what I mean–and my busy life absolutely beats the alternative.

Definitions and Expectations

I am a “safety professional” and sometimes that’s very cool and other times it is downright embarrassing.  One of the biggest problems motorcyclists face is labeling; by sorting and categorizing people we actually make our lives simpler because it saves us the time needed to do the research and get to know somebody.   So we are perfectly clear on this:  I believe that stereotypes run both ways–sometimes we use them and sometimes we live them.  Yeah, sometimes it’s pretty darn easy to be a “safety professional” because all I have to do is live up to other’s expectations…If you’re not ATGATT you’re an idiot, if you’re riding like a ninny you’re a stat waiting to happen–you know, that basic Safety Nazi stuff that’s so offensive when someone uses it against me but sooo easy to live when I’m not interested in working on my own opinions and ideals.

There is a elegance of living that comes with a stereotypes; we simply do what the stereotype requires and BOOM!  Done.  Is every moment of every day lived by the stereotype?  No, however we often find ourselves in positions where it’s easier to drape ourselves in a title rather than explain who we are.  When I say, “I am a safety professional” then you instantly pull up a file and say, “OK.  I know what those guys are like.”  That just happens.

Labeling ourselves is pretty common behavior.

What religion are you?  Episcopal? That’s Catholic lite right?

Political views?  Conservative?  Rush fan eh?

Sports?  Soccer?  Yeah…keep score or not?

This is a two way street I’m talking about we use stereotypes to our own advantage because it’s easier to throw out a category rather than define our own unique position on the scale.  There is a danger to this and that is we sometimes get lazy and start believing our own stereotypes.  We become that thing by which we identify ourselves.

Recently I was with a like minded group of safety professionals and I wound up asking myself, “Self, is this who you are?  Or are you something different?”  In motorcycle safety there is an orthodox position (or maybe expectation) on most issues.  Once you have a gaggle of safety folks around it’s curious to watch as everybody cinches up their safety belt and sucks their safety paunch in.  Hey, I do it myself.  Ain’t no way I’m gonna admit to those folks that I routinely ride my bike to work without wearing dedicated riding pants or an over pant.  Do you want to be that guy?  You want to fit in, to not rock the boat–you want peer acceptance.

Adults face peer pressure just like kids and adult peer pressure is just as capable as causing you to change your behavior as teen peer pressure is especially when you’re with a group of people engaged in a good cause you respect. Orthodox behavior and beliefs can lead to a thing I like to call “Hyper-obedience”.  This is when, to feel success in the group, you push the envelope farther than standard orthodoxy requires.  In the motorcycle safety community (over time) I’ve ran into folks who offer that you should wear a helmet just to move a bike around in the garage–no lie.  There’s an orthodox position on helmets, type of helmets, gear, quality of gear, hi-viz v. anything else, helmet–solid, pattern, color– how much gear to wear and when to wear it, pre-bike inspections (which, for me consists of looking under the bike for puddles of fluids…I can tell if the tires are low by pushing it out of the garage), group ride etiquette like hand signals, lane discipline, road captains, and sweepers, what size bike to start with, when to step up on size…just a ton of stuff that actually has a position that peer pressure says:  Feel THIS way about this.

When I’m in a conversation with another safety pro it’s very easy to know what you should say and if it’s not what you want to say then you might clam up or even just quote back what you feel the orthodox position is–unless you feel safe enough with the person or persons you’re with to actually say what’s in your heart or mind.

The problem is that this can create an “Us v. Them” mentality; a bit of a besieged state of mind.  Once the world is against you there’s a certain amount of zealousness that sets in.  A potential to dig a trench and bunker down can set in and you can end up viewing yourself as a lone light in the darkness, maybe even a bit of a martyr.  If the chattering hordes are against you it can only mean you’re very right…or very wrong when in fact you’re neither.

As a motorcycle safety professional I believe it’s not my job to change the world.  I shouldn’t be worrying about legislation or whether or not dealers should sell 1000cc bikes to 18 year old kids.  It’s not my job to hassle you in person or on the web to ride the way I want you to ride or to change your habits and hopes.  My job isn’t to make you not want a bike that’s too big, too fast or too (insert orthodox negative asset here).  I’m not here to change your dreams of clothing or cross country club cavalcades.  I’m not here to make you renounce your speeding sins or slothful slaloms.  My job as a “safety professional” is to love motorcycles and motorcyclists; to let your head know that your heart is special to someone–even to me.  Bikes are a blessing and giving riders the tips, tricks and techniques to have a long, full, joyful riding career is, well, my business.  Do I want you to change?  No, I want you to be better, to make a reasoned choice, to think beyond yourself and create a situation where you’re more likely to come home at night and be with those you love.  Motorcycles aren’t here to leave gaps in the web of family and friends, they’re here to build a bigger community and connect us with others who share our love.  And friend?  If you’re on a bike–any bike–I love you too.

Be Safe.