Kobayashi Maru

If you don't get this iconic cultural reference... shame.
If you don’t get this iconic cultural reference… shame on you.

[For the non-trekkie, this is a “No Win Situation“.]

I recently read an article by a Tulsa World News columnist and blogger saying that the Riverside trails should have speed limits. The article bothered me for several reasons: contrary to popular belief, most cyclists are courteous, cautious, and civic-minded. Most cyclists are not racers or poseurs, and most cyclists are also pedestrians and drivers. The assumptions to the contrary reveal the standard prejudice I’m used to seeing in articles about cycling, whether by motorists wanting cyclists to “get off the roads,” or by pedestrians wanting cyclists to “get off the paths.”

I can live with the article. Why? She’s stating her opinion based on the negative experience she had, and she is one of the fortunate few who have a bully pulpit large enough to have her opinion be heard (free speech being anything but, admittedly).

But then I did something patently moronic: I read the comments. If the article didn’t upset me – even though it appears to my eyes more a knee-jerk reaction to a bad situation (see my post about A Few Bad Apples) – the comments sure did.

In today’s age of social everything, every blog, newspaper website, online magazine, and any other article-like system allows anyone to voice their opinion on just about anything. And they do, with gusto, vigor, and more often than not incalculable levels of stupidity and vitriol. Why do people so readily comment on, well, everything? Because they can.

Now, most of the comments started out civil enough, voicing agreement or dissent, and discussing various viewpoints on the issue. I love these types of comments, and think that it’s the type of discussion that we must have more in our society. But all too quickly it devolves into sharp jabs that start as “jokes” and minor slights, and eventually reveal the intractable lines that people have drawn in the virtual sand.

With one of the longest intros in blogging history out of the way… why did I name this post “Kobayashi Maru”, and what does all of this have to do with cycling? After reading both the civil and uncivil comments alike, I came to some conclusions that were rather disheartening.

1) Sinatra had it right. Most people want to do it their way. Their experiences and their conclusions are paramount. We’re just visitors in their universe, and had best tread lightly.

2) Discourse may not be dead, but it’s definitely being held in the ICU. By this I mean to say that rational conversation, whereby people posit premises and develop conclusions based on logical argumentation just doesn’t take place anymore. Well, it takes place, but in such limited quantities as to be drowned out by billions of hash-tags and Like buttons.

3) Your epic response to an online article for a small-town newspaper is unlikely to change the world. Of the hundreds that may read that article, perhaps dozens will read the comments. And maybe one or two will read yours. The likelihood of changing one of those minds in a matter of 3-4 sentences? Magic 8-Ball shows “Unlikely.”

Look: if you want to comment on some article because you strongly agree or disagree with the contents, or because you have to kill another five minutes before your lunch hour, fine. Knock yourself out. But it’s a no-win scenario. You’re unlikely to make a dent in anyone’s position, and will not have advanced the cause of a cohesive, non-confrontational transportation society.

The only way to beat this situation – to make a real difference in the relationship between cycling, running, walking, and driving – is to forget the comments and just BE a safer cyclist, runner, walker, and driver. Respect your fellow travelers. Assume nothing. Allow for mistakes, and accept the occasional idiot whether on two wheels, four, or none. As Ghandi said: be the change you want to see in the world.

And if that doesn’t work, manually realign the dilithium crystals. Ride long and prosper.