Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Responsibility of Freedom

Recently I was reading, or I should say re-reading, the words of the Viennese psychiatrist, Dr. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning.

Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness . . . the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast should be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

How true that those words, uttered over a half-century ago (by a Fer-uh-ner as some of my fellow countrymen might be wont to note), are coming to fruition in almost every theatre of life in America.

We all want freedom, no matter in what arena we choose to play. Freedom is the basis of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. And there is nothing wrong with wishing to stand tall on that pedestal, peering out over the crowd with our posture ramrod stiff and chin held high.

Sometimes, though, we Americans are too quick in peppering the opposition to our individual freedoms, often perceived as birthrights, with a vitriolic diatribe that will curdle milk. We get a wee bit uppity in our demands that others genuflect to our wants and desires as if we were diety; but woe is to them if they expect the same courtesy.

To those I ask, "What is freedom if we do not accept its twin brother of responsibleness?"

It is a concept I have almost always followed in my cycling days and can easily propose to fellow cyclists, anti-cyclists (and their more benign cousins, non-cyclists), and elected officials as a middle ground in the continuing campaigns of road-sharing and facility-building.

For myself, I cannot, in moments of less-than-lucid thought, screech about my rights like a Raptor in Jurassic Park III and demand that you Share The Damn Road if I am not prepared to take the first step and offer the proverbial Olive Branch. While not being perfect, I do strive for excellence in following this precept. And I am not alone within the fraternity of saddle jockeys.

But there are other cyclists who wear the dark-tinted lens of myopic eyewear and fail to see the logic. Last summer as I was leaving work, an intrepid wheelman zipped past me on the sidewalk outside my building, did a brief rolling stop at the corner traffic light and, taking a spot on the pavement (motorist be damned), bullied his way through traffic as he swooshed toward the local football stadium parking lots about a mile away. He was in full racing regalia, headed to a weekly criterium series being held at those lots, on a bike that shouted, "I cost a lot, a helluva lot, and my owner thinks he's better than you." He would not have missed any start times at the race series if the track were 10 miles further. But he probably incurred the wrath of more than a few anti-cyclists. Many of those incensed would most likely remember this idiot and judge accordingly, to their skewed perspective, the next cyclist who was attempting to follow the unwritten code of responsibleness.

That's why this idea must be seen in action to anti-cyclists as a means to diffuse opposition to a cyclist's freedom to ride on “their” roadways. For the most part anti-cyclists, and these folks are different than non-cyclists, are all too ready to offer complaints, condemnations, and criticisms against the entire strata of cyclists. When cyclists place responsibility before rights they are, in essence, citing a cousin of the thoughts by Buddha that, “Hatred is never ended by hatred but by love.” No, I don't want to gather with a circle of Bubba's or Bubbette's to cry, hug, and sing Kumbaya. I just want to ride my bicycle without the fear that any of them might want to skewer my skinny butt with their hood ornament.

As for elected officials, responsibleness must take a different tack that includes the almighty dollar. These folks sometimes persist in claiming roads as their gift to the people, wrapped in luxurious, but decidely diaphonous, shrouds. Choosing responsibleness here means assisting these folks to see the facts about facilities and infrastructure that are out there. It is not that they cannot find the data on their own (although sometimes they do appear quite clueless). Rather, they are allowing the efforts of the constituency to guide their actions. Sadly, too often the synonyms of constituency, as considered by our elected officials, include Lobbyi$t$ and Big Bu$ine$$. It doesn't mean that cyclists cannot impact the decision-making of the legislative process. It does mean we have to work our backsides off because there are less of us rattling the sabers in seeking change.

When faced with such daunting opposition, we must show that a) facility-building will actually include less material and more people resources, and b) also help reign in the excessive health care costs of sedentary lifestyles that are exponentially skyrocketing with each new generation.

Our approach must be the same as what gridiron strategists understand as a mis-direction play. To wit, a halfback takes the handoff from the quarterback and starts running at the line of scrimmage in one direction. As the blocking schemes develop, the runner quickly changes course where another blocking hole has opened and, swoosh, they are gone. Executed very well, the play becomes a long-gainer and perhaps even a touchdown producing effort.

Here, instead of trying to get funding for dedicated bicycle facilities, the cold, hard data is presented showing that bicycling facilities can be merged with, and augmented by, other transportation options. We have to approach the project knowing that Big Money industries interests will be stroking legislators backsides and slipping recompense in their wallets while we are standing in front of said official pleading our case. We also have to understand that the smile we see may not be because the elected official agrees with us, and our viewpoint; they are merely reacting to the gentle patting of their backsides. But we are practicing responsibleness on a grander scale.

Earl Nightingale, in his audio program, Lead the Field, had these thoughts on personal responsibility as it related to a person's career motives and decision-making: Do what you love and the money will follow. It will work in all theatres.

Let's practice responsibleness first, and then watch as the right, the freedom, to do almost anything we choose will come to us a bit easier.

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