It’s always when I’m hurrying that things seem to go wrong. When I’m trucking along trying to make the light before it turns red, squeaking through on a yellow; when I’m trying to make it to the corner before the pedestrian so that I don’t have to stop for her; when I’m so caught up in having to get somewhere or do something fast — that is when I’m most likely to do something that makes me feel like a total asshole, or, the flip side, make me feel like I’m somehow running into all the assholes in the west.
Speed makes assholes of us all.
When you’re in a hurry, both you and everyone around you is much more likely to be an jerk: you, because the top priority is what you’re doing and you see everyone else as an impediment; everyone else, because even though they’re just doing their own thing, any thing that frustrates your need to go fast will seem like a jerk move, designed purely to thwart you.
I think about this a lot when I’m biking around. It’s the people driving fast, the people not quite stopping at stop signs, the people who look one direction but not the other before proceeding through the intersection who freak me out. How many times have I nearly been hit by a car because they were trying to get through an intersection as quickly as possible and didn’t look? Or because they couldn’t slow down for three seconds and wait until it was safe to pass me? How many times have I nearly been hit by a car because I’m running late and not paying as close attention as I should be?
A large part of why I bike in the first place is because I like the pace of it. I like being able to see the world as I go by. I like that the ride, the commute, is part of the fun of the destination and not just a means to an end. Inherently, I like biking in many ways because it’s not as fast as driving, because it gives me time to spin my thoughts, because I feel more connected to what’s around me when I’m traveling at a pace where I can notice it.
A biking pace makes me happy. It makes me patient; it leads me to smile at people I pass; it makes me initially assume positive intent when someone does something I don’t like. In short, it reminds me not to put myself front and center all the time. I can pull over and wait for someone else to pass on the super-narrow I-5 bridge. I can wave a pedestrian across the road. I can understand that my desire to get somewhere is not the most important thing.
Don’t misunderstand this: I do like going fast. I love zooming down a good hill, especially if I’ve worked really hard to get up the other side of it; I love pedaling hard and breathing fast. What I don’t love is when I (or others) forget that I’m but one tiny person in this huge world full of other people, and that the world is much more kind if we acknowledge our shared humanity and our shared claims on the space we inhabit. Speed can be fun, and it can be helpful to get places fast. But there’s a time and a place, and speediness should be undertaken with the conscious acknowledgement that my speed is not, ultimately, the thing of paramount importance.
This is not just about biking, of course.
How lovely would it be if we were all just a little more patient, a little more slow to anger or judge, a little more human-speed-paced in our interactions with each other?