Follow by example: how to create a hostile society

Random image from my files

If I were asked to describe my personality, I would say I am patient, understanding and caring, among another few keywords that come to mind, which are not relevant for this blog post. Now, allow me to immediately add that it feels awkward for me to describe myself as understanding and caring. Yet, in the absence of someone else saying it, I’ll just say it.

Whenever I go outside, I don’t get annoyed much by people who are around me or in my way. People having a nice chat with each other in front of the supermarket entrance? It’s okay. I’ll wait a sec for them to make room or just go in between (1,5 meters). Someone taking their merry time to look at some product right at the exit of the supermarket? Sure I’ll wait. Can’t help the person behind me asking in an agitated manner if “anyone’s gonna walk orrrrr??”. Someone cuts in line? Whatever. I’ll save myself the hassle of a discussion and just let them go. Three or four teenagers biking next to each other in front of me, occupying the full width of the street? Meh, I’ll either peddle a little slower or use my bike bell to get past them.

Now, also some really annoying things happened outside this week, that I couldn’t do or say anything about, as it concerned cars while I’m on a bicycle. The least problematic was a car coming out of a side street who couldn’t see me coming because of a parked car – but I kept that in mind, so I knew not to bike in front of her. She apologized (with gestures) when she saw me and went her merry way. Fine.

Traffic situation drawn in MS Paint

The other event was pretty bad, though. I was biking with my mom past a street where cars have to stop and allow the traffic from our street to go first. So, a car in the street on the right of us stops. We continue biking. HOWEVER… another car was coming, and that car simply drove past the first car, into our direction. It startled the heck out of us and luckily nothing happened. I’m not sure anymore whether that driver eventually saw us or what. In such cases, I wish I had a GoPro strapped to my head so I could film the whole thing and more importantly, their license plate.

Luckily, that’s only the second time I almost got hit by a vehicle… the last time was a few years ago. Where a bus just kept driving while he (driver) shouldn’t. Me, on my bike, could’ve touched the bus if I stretched out my hand.

Anyway… the point I’m trying to get at, is that I don’t freak out, don’t cause a scene and don’t yell at people no matter what happens, although the people that almost drive me over certainly deserve a mouthful in the very least. But alas, what can you do when you’re on a bike and they’re in a car? Yeah, nothing.

Today, my dad had a medical appointment in the city center. He recently lost his ability to walk, so instead of letting my mom push his wheelchair, I volunteered to do it. Boy, that turned out to be a chore. I’m guessing the wheelchair is just not at all suited for going outside, because it was hard to handle. As the sidewalks and roads are generally lopsided, I constantly had to make sure I wouldn’t lose control of the wheelchair and have my dad drive into someone’s yard, off the sidewalk, against a parked car, and so forth. To top it off, the wheelchair has no brakes for me to use, so throughout the entire trip (~45 minutes back and forth in total) I had to apply my body weight to make sure no accidents would happen.

After getting the green light to cross the street, it took several pushes to get my dad over a slightly raised tile. All in all, it was a disaster. But we (me pushing my dad and my mom coming along by bike to assist him at the location) eventually made it.

On the way back, I decided to choose a longer but easier route. To provide myself with some relief from this heavy exercise, I decided to stay on the bike path until we’d reach the park, with a more even ground. My mom biked next to us, of course occupying the full wide of the bike path (with very few people on it).

At some point, a woman in her 40’s or 50’s came up behind us. I alerted my mom, but it was too late. The woman immediately repeatedly rang her bike bell and shouted “HELLO!”. Needless to say, it took just 5 seconds to make room for this woman. As she drove past us, she scoffed “You need to go on the sidewalk”.

For once in my life, I lost my cool. And I raised my voice to tell her – as she quickly drove off, without looking back – “A bit of compassion goes a long way, ma’am!”.

Dear ma’am on the bike, who couldn’t wait 5 seconds for us to make room so you could drive past us: I can assure you I wasn’t on the road to take away your precious time. It was my first time handling a wheelchair. It was very difficult. I, too, would have found it easier if my dad could’ve just biked or used a car. Sadly, we don’t own a car. Sadly, he lost his ability to walk a few months ago. It’s all new to us. If you could bring yourself to have some understanding for the fact that everyone’s lives and situations are different, and people aren’t necessarily out there to be annoying to you, that would make society so much better.

Instead, you chose to vent your annoyance in an instance, about a situation you have no idea about. Keep in mind that this may change people. Keep in mind that this may cause nice people to behave like you.

Because what’s the use of always being nice and understanding, and never receiving back even a glimpse of what you give?