From Vol. 2, Issue 2, February 2020
A Stoic Cyclist: When People Behave Badly on the Roads
When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but of the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me…. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 2: 1 (Hays translation)
If you ever go cycling in a densely populated area, you’ll soon discover that there is a micro-society of cyclists. I’ve learned this from riding a bike around Northern California roads, some of which are covered in cyclists (and cars) every weekend.
In this cyclist society, there is an etiquette based on a common understanding of how to behave safely. Don’t block other riders, swerve right in front of them, or do anything that might cause an accident. Pass other cyclists on the left and say something (“on your left”). Use hand signals and, of course, follow the rules of the road.
Some people don’t follow these unspoken rules, and their rudeness can be dangerous. I get startled by cyclists who zoom around me without a word and cut me off. Riding with my teen daughter, another cyclist decided to pass right between us when we were changing lanes on a heavily traf-ficked road, unnerving both of us. Of course much worse can happen among cyclists, and between bikes and cars or trucks.
These situations test our ability to work with other human beings in a society of respect—and can have deadly consequences.
Any time we go onto a road it is an act of trust. It is rooted in our belief that other drivers and cyclists (and pedestrians) will respect the rules of the road and each other. That we form a society, working together like the rows of teeth in Marcus Aurelius’ passage above.
When others break that trust, it feels “unnatural”. Like Marcus, we see that they don’t know good from evil. They feel only their own wants. Others cease to exist, and Marcus’ vision of society crumbles away.
I have re-read the passage above many times. It helps me keep a sense of perspective both on how other people behave, and on how I should react. It also preserves a sense of kinship and hope about others—no matter how difficult (or reckless or clueless) they may be. I work to model respectful behavior, teach it to my kids, and speak out for wisdom and justice on the road, calling out a quick “that’s dangerous!”.
By Meredith A. Kunz, author of The Stoic Mom blog (www.thestoicmom.com) Twitter: @thestoicwoman