I used to work with this one guy, a third-generation Japanese American.
Nice guy. And one day when we were talking, he mentioned a traditional Japanese expression that says it’s the nail that stands out that gets pounded down.
I’ve often thought about that saying, because it so often seems to be true, even in a this country like this that supposedly prizes individuality. It’s the exceptions, the ones who stand out from all the rest, who often draw the harshest response, whether you’re talking about the campus geek in junior high, the neighborhood eccentric or leaders like Dr. King or Bobby Kennedy.
You can even see it now, when a politician can be criticized, not for his policies, but for his eloquence and ability to inspire others.
And then there’s the other side of that same coin, where someone tries to demonize some group, in order to justify their own negatives attitudes.
Like cyclists, for instance.
Because some people look at those exceptions — such as cyclists who regularly ignore the law and flaunt both safety and common sense — and somehow assume that all riders are like that. And decide that since that one nail is loose, we all need to be pounded down.
It’s not true, of course. Any more than it’s true that all (insert racist, sexist, ethnic and/or religious slur of your choice here) are alike.
It’s also demonstrably false. Just stand next to a busy street intersection along any popular bike route. You won’t have to watch very long to see that many, if not most of us, stop for red lights and try to stay out of the way of the way of traffic as much as possible.
But these people only seem to see the ones who don’t stop, or take a lane for reasons they can’t, or perhaps don’t want to, comprehend. So they automatically reach for their hammers to pound down every nail, rather than the few that stand out.
Take this recent letter from Graham A. Rowe in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, for instance, in response to their earlier article about the cycling the mean streets of L.A. (I also notice they didn’t print Will Campbell’s response to the article.):
“Bicycle riders believe that they should enjoy all the benefits of both car drivers and pedestrians. They choose to ride both with and against traffic. They obey no traffic signs, never stop at red lights or stop signs. At a red light they decide to become a pedestrian and simply ride across the crossing. They ride on the sidewalk at danger to pedestrians. Bicycles should be required to have a fee-paid license plate and be ticketed for infractions. Maybe then they would be more careful and get more respect.”
Yes, that’s exactly what we all believe, posts like this from Gary Rides Bikes and yours truly notwithstanding. Never mind that most cyclists don’t do those things, or that riding on the sidewalk is legal in Los Angeles.
You’ll note that he ends by saying that we’ll get more respect when we’re more careful. Despite the fact that drivers are required by law to grant us that respect, just as they would any other vehicle. And despite the fact that the consequences of failing to grant that respect are far greater for us than they are for the driver.
In other words, he’s saying that we’re responsible for the fact that some people refuse to drive safely, and legally, around us. Of course, not everyone who fails to share the road does so out of spite. Some are just unaware of the law, or refuse to believe it when they’re told. And some are just jerks, not unlike some cyclists.
I’ve written about it before, notably here and here, in response to some letters that were recently published in the L.A. Times. And I’m going to keep writing about it.
Because frankly, I’m tired of people trying to pound me down for something I didn’t do.
Great article from the U.K. about whether helmets are fashionable for Parisians and Prime Ministers. It also discusses a Dutch idea that assumes the driver is automatically responsible in any collision between a car and a bike. One lesson experienced cyclists learn is to make eye contact with opposing drivers. Cyclists protest unfair tickets in Santa Monica by crossing the street — repeatedly. The Times’ Bottleneck Blog considers what L.A. could be like with a little more foresight from out elected leaders. And finally, both Seattle and supposedly bike-unfriendly New York test the radical concept of turning a few streets over to cyclists and pedestrians.