I think about it every time I almost get run over by a car. “If that driver knew what it was like to be a cyclist, they’d be more aware of us.” And then when I drive, and some biker is being unnecessarily disruptive, I think “Get out of the way! Don’t you know how impatient and hobbled it can feel to drive in traffic?”
And it’s obvious when some driver pushes through the crosswalk that he’s a jerkwad, right? Except when I rode with my college friend whose medical condition kept him from walking, and there was an unending line of pedestrians, he had a class to get to too.
We all need to experience the other point of view periodically to retain our empathy and shared experience. Gotta wear their shoes, man!
I remember the shoes of the kids in the South African orphanage, hanging in red dust off the benches where they knelt to do a craft project. After seeing their faces I would read an African news story and instead of thinking “Man, that part of the world is screwed” I’d think “There are incredible people doing amazing work to improve each other’s lives there” and on good days “Maybe I can help somehow.”
And the orderly lines of Bay Area traffic look different after you’ve sat in Nepali gridlock where cars butting into each other’s way have written a self-fulfilling prophecy that nobody’s going anywhere. “The world works better with cooperation, fellas” you understand immediately. A nice antidote to the dictatorial individualism of the United States, me first.
But spend some time on European freeways, where everyone understands what a fast lane is, only moving left while actively passing then immediately shifting back right again, and suddenly our freeways are a top notch clusterfuckery of dunces. Or maybe it’s just me. (It’s not just me.)
And if the power goes out in a winter storm, I don’t rage at the electric company for it (they’re despicable for other reasons), instead I remember the unelectrified silence of Myanmar and appreciate that when I plug in my electronics and come back a few hours later, they’re charged, not fried.
Yes, we should all spend time on a bicycle and our own two feet in addition to behind the wheel. But to really add perspective and empathy for the human experience, you can’t beat travel. Go somewhere else and see what else life can be, then come back to appreciate, and perhaps improve, what you had before.
But you already knew that.
So when does your next flight leave?