Monday, February 24, 2020

Seeing Both Sides: The Bike Path

I'm a frequent user of the multi-use paths around my house. I bicycle to work almost entirely on trails. I walk with my parents, my neighbors, and occasionally a group of friends. I run, and in the last decade I spent a lot of time jogging with a stroller and/or small children on their bikes.  I walk a dog when we're dog sitting. When it snows enough, I have even cross-country skied.

Participating in so many uses has made me realize how easy it is for the trail users to get in each other's way.  Dogs wander all over the trail, connected by a leash that blocks the passageway. Children on bikes need a lot of space and make sudden, erratic moves. Joggers wear headphones and so don't realize people are coming behind them. Groups of walkers focus on their conversations and are unaware of how much space they take.  Bike commuters are focused on getting to work instead of paying attention to how high their speed is relative to the other users.Walkers find the ski tracks an easy path to take through the snow.

I've felt my anger rise when I've come across examples of people acting these ways. Yet, since I've almost always been in the other user's place, I know how easy it is to make those mistakes myself. Having the perspective of both sides means I can understand why there is a conflict, and I can forgive others for making the mistakes because I hope to be forgiven myself. I've come to believe that those are the two keys to maintaining the peace of my day.

First, seeking understanding of the other person's experience. Putting myself in their shoes: what it feels like when a bike comes flying by a precious child, what it feels like to be late for work when you're already putting in the effort to save carbon emissions and getting exercise, what it feels like when your dog won't listen no matter how much effort you've put into training, how great it feels to be lost in conversation with your friends, or surrounded by music or an audiobook.

Second, forgiving their mistakes. The hiker doesn't know how precious those unspoiled cross country tracks are to the skier. The cyclist might have been under stress and forgot to proceed cautiously. The parent failing to steer a jogging stroller might be on the cell phone with a doctor who finally called back. The dog walker might be unprepared for how vigorously the dog will want to meet another of its species. The group walkers are getting exercise and socializing, both keys to their health, which benefits all of society. Should we be angry at that? Does it help annyone?

These two actions--understanding and forgiveness-- can go a long way toward resolving many conflicts that naturally arise from occupying the same space as other people, which is basically life as a social animal.  My spouse and I are trying to teach our children both to strive for an awareness of the other,  and at the same time forgive the other when they don't meet our expectations. I'm starting this series of posts to explore these sorts of topics; not to claim one side is better than the other, but to seek understanding within apparent opposition.

Are there issues you find yourself on both sides of, or have come to understand the other side? Please comment!

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