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.