Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Just Like Riding A Bike

Traffic Can Be Fun
Originally uploaded by busbozo
Today was 'Bike Rodeo' day at my daughter's elementary school. The YMCA brought out a ton of bikes and helmets for the kids to ride, and spent a couple of hours teaching the kids riding skills they can use on the streets- looking over your shoulder without swerving, sudden stops, right of way... Overall, perhaps one of the more potentially useful lessons these kids will learn this week. I was so happy to see them learning something practical and basic, something kids learned just by being on the block when I was a kid.

Despite my joy at seeing the kids riding around, there were more than a few moments in the morning where the kids were being fed fear rather than knowledge. Right at the beginning, the helmets went on. While I do not wear a helmet (please don't write me to tell me I am crazy- I have my reasons and they are fine for me), I have no problem with others wearing them and insist that my children do, if for nothing else than to keep them from scraping up their faces when they stack- I do not think they will provide any protection in the case of major collisions (again, I have my opinion on this, you have yours- leave it at that). As the instructors fitted the kids with various helmets, I heard one of them telling the kids "this helmet will save your life". Not 'could save your life' or 'will keep you from scraping your face if you fall'- the kids were told, with absolute conviction, that their lives would absolutely be saved. By implication, the instructors sounded as though they knew that today would be the day that death came to visit my daughter's class and that these plastic buckets would fend off the scythe of the Grim Reaper.

FluiditySo right off the bat, the kids are being conditioned to accept other people limiting their choices and ability to reason through situations by instilling fear as the basis for decision making. As my presence in this class was to take pictures of the kids learning how to ride, I was not in a position to say anything about it, nor was it an appropriate forum for that discussion. But it got me to thinking about how often our kids are controlled by fear, mostly because the adults are all living in fear. Fear of pedophiles and trans fats and lead paint and underachievement and delayed speech and public schools... have turned parents and teachers into peddlers of fear and anxiety. Children who are never allowed out of eyeshot of an adult grow up to be teenagers who can not be off the electronic leash of phones and computers with everyone they know for fear of not being connected to everything at all times.

The worst part is we have marketed this as cool. Fear of the world has become fashionable! Instead of facing our demons we have made them the fodder for talk shows, the basis of indoor play spaces with monitors at the ready with antibacterial wipes, the warning label on matchboxes telling us the contents are flammable. We have made being weak and frightened the epitome of 'fitting in'. We have allowed something as simple and basic as riding a childhood bike to become an activity that calls into question our parenting if we do something as radical as let kids just get on with it and have fun.

How do we turn back the clock on this? Is there a way to teach others the joy of simply allowing the moment to be what it is without catastrophizing it? To 'go with the flow', so to speak. Can we stop this before we paralyze our children's future, a future where they will need to be creative and fearless and brazen on a level most of us have never known? My goodness, I hope so, because we have fallen off and we need to get back on the bike of life without fear for the sake of our kids and ourselves.


Mikael said...

great stuff, adrienne.

here's some good reading about The Culture of Fear:

Article from Reason.com

Frank Furedi's The Culture of Fear Revisited... amazon, et al.

word verification: scepical... "Yaknow, i'm purdy scepical bout dem helmets..."

Anonymous said...

Macchiavelli said..."Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved." Though a common attitude in the patriarchal systems that have prevailed in the last centuries, I'd like to believe we're evolving to something creative, exciting and new, beyond patriarchy or matriarchy or any binary world-view. Marvin Gaye said only love can conquer hate. With love, we can also free ourselves from the outmoded fear-control complex. Keep on fighting on the LOVE side, sister :)

Adrienne Johnson said...

@ Mikael- well, thank you, kind sir. I will get to reading your suggestions. Glad to have you visit : ) Good verification! They are kind of addicting, aren't they?

@Anonymous- I had to think about this for a little bit. What would it be if one were to comment on a 'spiritual' blog only to be told the love is not the answer?

'Love' is the basis of the answer. When we act, it must be with compassion and love toward ourselves and one another. Without that basis, all of our actions are doomed to failure. When countering fear and domination, one must also employ rationality and reasoned thinking as well as a very strong sense of self. When actions are taken in fear, they root themselves deeply and doubts sprout from those roots faster than we can pull them out of the soil.

The problem with reason and rationality and honour is that they take a great deal of work. 'Love' can simply happen, but reason is something you have to practice. American society (and to a lesser but rapidly increasing extent, the rest of the world) has been fed fear instead of reason for decades, and people have become addicted to it. It is fear of crop failure and farm loss that has caused our once diverse and amazing farm system to almost collapse under the weight of monoculture and chemicals it now labours under. It is fear of the sun that allows people to keep their children indoors so much now that children have to be screened for Rickets(!!!).

Those are a couple of examples, but there are millions more. Each of us lives under these fears all the time- either by buying into it or using time and resources to fight it tooth and nail. Mikael, the Gentleman who has the first comment on this post, is a fine example of the latter (click on his link and check out his blogs- they are very good).

I will not liken this to fighting a war, but to gardening. Love is sun and the rain and the breeze that is the basis for everything to grow. Reason and rationality and zest and adventure are our hoes and rakes and spades that we need to turn the earth and plant the seeds . WE are the seeds. WE are what grows in that garden and through our actions we can grow lush and fecund with life or we can be stunted and plagued by pests and disease. It just takes time and work (and love).

Kat said...

absolutely. the selling of fear seems like a big bizniss with 'control' as it's profit scheme. i agree with every point you have made here, and am so grateful for the way you have written it. it is about awareness, bottom line. being aware enough to see the fear-mongering and understand it's uses and misuses, is so important
for redirecting the beliefs and thought systems of the young ones, not to mention the rest of us, away from a fear-driven anxious lifestyle toward the faith in the good.

melancholic optimist said...

It's amazing to me how pervasive it is in the world for people to try to control others through fear.

I think one of my very favorite statements on the subject comes from the Bible - "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love."

It's one thing to have respect and concern where there is cause for it. It's another completely to foist fear on someone when there is no need for it, and without any encouragement to think about the situation for themselves. I think I would tend to say, anytime someone wants you to believe something without thinking about it yourself, you should be pretty suspicious.

Thinking about bicycling particularly, I think of people my parents' age who rode bicycles around this same city when they were young, minus helmets, and never thought for one minute that it was unsafe. Now, however, they are very concerned for me, because somehow riding a bicycle has become so much more dangerous (even though there were fewer traffic-related deaths in Portland this year than there ever have been since they started keeping track in the 1920s). I don't think they told themselves it was more dangerous, but they clearly were told that by someone - since they don't ride in the city anymore, they didn't find out for themselves.

The sad thing, is that this happens all over the place, and people don't even think to check whether their fear is justified or not, they just go along with it.

At least we can change that on small scales, maybe eventually thinking will become more common :)

Adrienne Johnson said...

I was astounded by how much fear is used to control, until it came to me that fear is easy and cheap and almost 100% guaranteed to work. As easy as it is to instill fear, it is even more simple to cultivate it in ourselves. We are wired to survive using fear to keep us alive. The instinct to trust fear to protect our children is even more intractable.

The most damaging part of modern society, to my eyes, is that we no longer have to challenge ourselves to complete basic tasks. We do not have to face the fear of wild animals to eat, we do not have to pound our laundry on a rock in the river... hell, we don't have to walk up stairs or even learn how to swim (they have adult floaties, now!). There is so little in our lives that challenges our self-reliance, so it makes sense that people would fear their own power as they have no sense of where their own limits are.

Bicycles are very much a symbol, perhaps one of the last now that horses are not common place, of human self-reliance. People fear bicycles, not because bicycles are dangerous as objects, but because they are challenging to psyches. Seeing someone on a bicycle in a race allows us to view them as a tool of the athlete, the superhuman, and thus, renders them harmless as we could not possibly do that. Bicycles as transportation and utility means anyone can do it, even you. This challenges the concept of 'helpless me', the one who is incapable, the one who needs props to complete a task, the one who does not have time because of_______. If I could ride a bike to get me around, what else could I be doing for myself? What else am I mistaken about when I think I need technology to make every move in life?

A bicycle is simple. What it represents, maybe not so much.

Kale said...

Our local newspaper has a monthly message from the police. This month's message, about how riding bikes is fun for the family, but keep in mind wearing a helmet is the law in BC, and it will save you from death or permanent disability.

Friking fear mongers! Nothing in there about checking your brakes, or make sure the bikes are in working order, just wear a helmet or you WILL DIE...


Adrienne Johnson said...

Nothing about controlling traffic or sharing the road or using turn signals....

like I said, there is so much more here than just " bicycles and helmets". Riding a bike represents freedom and self sufficiency and there are many out there who are terrified by that idea. They can not let themselves be free so they can let you, either.

The only way to combat it is to live by example. There will be many who yell and accuse and threaten, but that is sometimes the price of freedom- withstanding the onslaught of those who have not yet learned or accepted their own power to live their own lives.

Get on that bike and ride! You'll feel better : )