You’ll recognize the visual analogy she scrawled on the board for us. It’s in every science fiction movie you’ve ever watched about some contagious condition: Outbreak, I Am Legend, the end of the new Planet of the Apes. First there’s one red dot, then another, then another, and at some point the pandemic tips into epidemic mode and the red dots are everywhere.
Think of the red dots as episodes of violence, actual or threatened. Dorothy asks, What if every red dot were surrounded by a bunch of green dots: people who will not condone violence and who will take action in some way, whether it’s handled directly, delegated (for example, by calling the police), or accomplished through distraction of some kind?
The world is full of far more green dots than red dots. We just need to know how to act appropriately and effectively and the red dots won’t reach that break-out point.
She asked us to take at least one action in our personal lives and one in our professional lives to pass on this idea, to be a green dot. Just by acting to increase awareness of possibility you make a difference.
This blog post isn’t done just to fulfill that, though. It arose out of my pondering on the talk as I rode home because it relates directly to an experience I had on my bike, and it taps into my deepest fears as a mother—that something bad will happen to one of my babies and that someone who could have done something to stop it stands by, or worse yet walks away.
I think the mere act of riding a bike in some ways makes me a green dot.
Not necessarily always in the direct intervening mode—story to follow on that. But by riding my bike I remove the steel shell that surrounds so many people. I make myself available. I am open to interaction. I make eye contact with total strangers.
This means I frequently give directions to pedestrians and drivers. I smile at the skateboarders in downtown and the people sitting outside the single-room-occupancy hotel or jaywalking on Division. I once told a guy with long gray hair wearing a leather motorcycle jacket covered with patches that I too was “Born to Ride”–that’s what it said on the big patch on his back.
I have the chance to say “Hi!” to the kids waiting at bus stops. I usually ring my bell for them too, to try to get a smile at the crazy lady in the skirt on the bike, and to get their attention so I can be an object lesson: “Look! Adults ride bikes—you don’t have to stop when you get your driver’s license!”
I recognize people and wave, and because I’m not going very fast they have time to see the wave and maybe even respond.
Riding my bike makes me happy so I’m often smiling. At a stoplight I look up at the blue sky or around at the architecture or the trees (depending on where I am), and by doing so I remind people there is more to life than the asphalt ribbon in front of them.
I chat with pedestrians as we wait together at a red light. I admire babies in strollers. I ask people on bikes stopped alongside the road if they need help. I’ve confessed I even get a little ticked off if I don’t get this kind of friendly interaction from a fellow bike-riding member of humanity.
I am in the world in a way I just don’t get from driving.
Someone in a car can just keep driving if he or she sees something happening. Wouldn’t want to halt traffic, now, would we?
On a bike, though, it’s easy for me to stop and take a minute. Since I try to be mindful, and since I’m not as hassled about time on my bike as I am in a car, I’m more apt to make that extra bit of eye contact with someone that makes me approachable, makes me someone you can ask for help.
I’m going to take advantage of the openness a bike gives me to see what difference I can make.
- It’s all in the Attitude
- Mental Essentials for Commuting: Risk and Trust
- More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
- Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
- How are your interactions with people different because you ride a bike?