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Things that can be carried on a bike (#728)…

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A pug!

This is Maxwell, one of the pugs that owns me. He is relieved as we were on our way home from the groomer and having painful ingrown dew claws dealt with. He’s resting now with his new rawhide chew-toy.

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Things that can be carried on a bike (#727)…

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On the bike:

A small backpack containing wet gym clothes, about $25 in groceries and sundries, and a small Charlie Brown-Style Christmas Tree.

But Who Is My Neighbor?

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When you’re kind to people, and you pay attention, you make a field of comfort around them, and you get it back—the Golden Rule meets the Law of Karma meets Murphy’s Law.
― Anne Lamott


At the outset of this paper which is focusing on the ethics of how we, as humans, treat and interact with each other, I’ll begin with a story which I feel is an excellent example of human kindness. I also have to qualify this paper in that while this is for an ethics class in philosophy, I am working towards a dual degree in philosophy and religious studies, thus there is overt religious language ahead.

January 2014 I was in Manhattan taking seminary classes. As is the norm, January in New York was cold. I had just had lunch with a few classmates and was out for a brisk walk then a coffee before returning to class. As I approached the Starbucks on the corner of 35th and 6th I saw a man that was often just outside the front door. He sat on the sidewalk on a piece of cardboard staring straight ahead with a small plastic bucket in front of him and another piece of cardboard written as a sign asking for money. As I approached the door I reached into my pocket and put whatever change I had into the bucket. He looked up at me and said thank you. Our eyes met and for a brief moment time had stopped. We were just two people—humans on planet earth—both of us God’s children trying to make it through this life. “I hope you have a good day,” I told him, he replied “Thank you; God bless you.”

After getting my coffee I looked around and saw that the only available spot was the counter, a shelf really, which is in the window facing 6th Avenue. And as I stood there sipping my two dollar cup of coffee, which cost more than what I put in the man’s bucket, it felt odd; I felt a little guilty. With his back to me, this man was sitting on the sidewalk directly in front of me and the only thing separating us was a thin pane of glass. Yet I was on the inside and he was out in the cold. The biblical passage where Jesus was instructing his disciples how to treat strangers (and how they unknowingly treated him) came to mind, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36, NIV).

There was a food cart on the corner of the street, and as I looked out the window sipping my coffee I could see another man talking with the vendor and also looking over at the man on the sidewalk. A minute later he walked over to the guy sitting on sidewalk, and in his hands were hot dogs and sodas, but what happened next brought tears to my eyes. At first I thought he was simply buying food for the guy, but what he did then really amazed me. He sort of knelt down and said something to the man; I of course couldn’t hear him as I was safely ensconced on the “inside.” Then, after a moment, he sat down next to the guy and they both ate their hot dogs together, right there on the cold sidewalk. He did more than simply feed him, he sat with him, saw him as an equal, and gave him dignity.

There are more than 1.6 million people living on Manhattan Island but on that day I saw these two lives converge, and it was beautiful. In a way they were communing together as two souls; the bread they broke were the hot dogs, the wine they drank was soda, and the altar was the cold New York Street.

I wanted to tell this story because I feel what I really saw that day was love in action, and that’s what life is really about isn’t it? Connecting with one another and taking care of each other. The writer and philosopher, Peter Singer, argues that this is not something that is a casual occurrence, but that it is our duty as fellow humans, “Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those who have the great good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families, and still have money or time left to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living an ethical life involves doing the most good we can” (Singer, 2016).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but nowhere in any sacred or philosophical text from any tradition does it say “every person for themselves.” I’ve never heard of a great sage, philosopher, or mystic say to “take what you can because you deserve it,” nor have I heard, “the person who dies with the most stuff wins.” It’s just the opposite. What I’m talking about, of course, is the Golden Rule. This is something that I truly believe is written on each one of our hearts, and deep down each one of us knows it. There are versions of this in every faith tradition, but they all say the same thing. Here are a few examples:

Judaism: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (The Bible, New International Version, 2011).

Hinduism: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. (Sacred-texts.com, 2017)

Taoism: The sage does not dwell on his own problems. He is aware of the needs of others. (Tao Te Ching, 2017)

Islam: None of you has faith until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself. (Sacred-texts.com, 2017)

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (Sacred-texts.com, 2017)

My favorite version of this comes from the Christian text in the tenth chapter of Luke, which is the introduction to the parable of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer quizzes Jesus; he inquires, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus, being clever as he was, answered the lawyer’s question with a question, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer being an educated man smartly rattles off the answer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” To which Jesus replies, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:25-28, NIV). Now just for a minute, let the tail end of this statement sink in…“do this and you will live.”

The lawyer must have thought for a moment, and realized that it would be easy for him to love God with everything he’s got so long as he doesn’t have to love all of his neighbors. So just to be perfectly clear, he asks Jesus his final question, “and who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, NIV) to which Jesus replies by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, which of course is the story of a stranger helping a stranger, and also another excellent example of human kindness, but even more importantly an example of how we should live.

We as a species are hardwired to be caring and want to make a connection with one another. Scientists using advanced imaging technology to study brain function have found that the human brain is wired to reward activities such as caring for each other, cooperation, and service.  Merely thinking about another person experiencing harm triggers the same reaction in our brain as when a mother sees distress in her baby’s face. But the act of helping another person triggers the brain’s pleasure center (Greater Good, 2017).

In an age where sensationalism sells and good news doesn’t always make the news, the media likes to portray the world as a dangerous self-serving place, but this is not necessarily the case. “If the world seems to be a more violent and dangerous place than ever before, however, this impression is an artifact of the media. There are plenty of violent people, but for any randomly selected person today the chances of meeting a violent death at the hands of his fellow humans is lower now than it has ever been in history (Singer, 2016). Good still abounds all around us, sometimes we just have to look for it.

That same cold winter in New York much of the country had a cold snap, even in unlikely places such as Georgia, and that’s where Dr. Zenko Hrynkiw was at the time. He is an accomplished brain surgeon and was at Brookwood Medical Center and had to travel to Trinity Medical Center, six miles away, to perform an emergency operation…but then the snow hit and Georgia was declared a state of emergency.

The doctor knew that getting to the other hospital by car was not an option. He also knew that his patient had taken a turn for the worse and if he didn’t get to them soon and perform the operation they would die. Dr. Hrynkiw is not a spry 20 or 30 something, he’s not even 40 or 50; he’s in his 60’s. But knowing the facts at hand he didn’t hesitate. He did, what I believe is within each one of us; he set out to help. He walked the six miles with an overcoat covering his surgical scrubs, and booties still on his feet, and made it in time to perform the surgery and save the patient. Later, when asked to be interviewed he commented “he didn’t know what the big deal was, he only did what anyone would have” (NPR.org, 2017).

So I ask again, who are our neighbors? Is it the person living in the next apartment, just beyond a thin wall? Sure, of course. But who else. How about the person you meet on the street? Or a co-worker. Dr. Hrynkiw certainly knew, and deep down so do we. I truly believe this.

I recently finished reading an inspirational travel book by the journalist Mike McIntyre, The Kindness of Strangers, Penniless Across America. The gist of the book is the that author walked and hitchhiked from his comfortable home in San Francisco to the east coast. He did not bring a cent with him and would not accept money, nor would he ask for food or lodging. As the title suggests he was literally relying on the kindness of strangers. During his journey he found that most people just wanted to help one another, “Once again I am amazed at how often it’s the ones with little to eat who are quick to share their food” (McIntyre, 2014).

A couple years ago I was working as chef at a private city club, “the second oldest club of it’s kind in the country,” its members like to proclaim. I would serve the “upper crust” of society while much of the kitchen staff was paid below living wages. Saw Tin was one such person, he was a dishwasher at the time, but prior to fleeing his native Burma he was an engineer. Though with little English skills this was the work he could find in America. I do not speak Burmese so we spent a lot of time pantomiming. He is about my age and was working to save enough money to bring his wife and adult daughter here.

On one Monday morning he came to me with a wallet he had found on his way to work; it was on the sidewalk, he motioned. When I opened it, it contained more than $100 in cash and 10 credit cards. We turned the wallet over to the police who then contacted the owner. When she came to retrieve it she commented that everything was intact; nothing was missing. Saw Tin had full opportunity to take the cash and credit cards without anyone finding out, but he didn’t. The women asked to meet him so she could thank him. When they met, Saw Tin greeted her with clasped hands, a brief bow, and a soft namaste. Namaste is a Sanskrit phrase which loosely translates as, “my soul recognizes your soul” (Geno, 2017).

But who is my neighbor? Saw Tin knew. Acts of kindness, big or small, can really make a huge impact on a person’s life.

The basis of what the philosophers, especially Immanuel Kant, refer to as moral philosophy is moral action, and if I’m reading this correctly, this is how a person responds to the world. Kant also argued that the basis for morality is freedom (Palmquist, 2008). If this is true then we have the freedom to choose good action from bad. What I find interesting, and even a bit contradicting, in Kant’s theory is that while he was not necessarily a proponent of compassion (Greater Good, 2017), he also suggested that we listen to the small voice within each of us (Palmquist, 2008). To the philosopher this small voice may be the voice of reason, but to me I truly believe this to be the voice of compassion.

The Epistle of James, which is one of the oldest books of the New Testament and is said to have been penned by James, the brother of Jesus, is really a small book of Christian ethics. Some say it is a blueprint for the way a Christian should live, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save you? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17, NIV).

Richard Taylor in his book, Restoring Pride, suggests this inner knowing and selfless service are a sort rule of manners, and even though he writes of pride, he also argues that this is not pride but refers to it as considerateness, “Thus, the rule of considerateness has no connection with pride, but is a practical rule of manners. It guides you unerringly in your relationships to all other persons, whether they be friends, kin, or total strangers” (Talyor, 1996).

By now you’ve likely gathered that I like to use stories, everyday events, as ways to illustrate my point. Well I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on something that just happened. I was about halfway through writing this paper at a local coffee shop. My head was down and I was “in the zone” typing so I didn’t see the man approach until I heard his scraggly voice say “excuse me.” I looked up and there was a man in front of me who was not pleasant to look at. He was older, looked physically unclean, had a runny nose, and a small open wound on his face. He was asking for money. Here I am writing a paper about the Golden Rule, quoting Jesus and other sacred texts, and there is Christmas music playing in the background. Is this some sort of a test, I thought?

I often give the homeless spare change, and stop and talk with them, but for some reason I was put off by how I was approached; he had a sort of aggressive manner. My first inclination was to say no I can’t. But then I thought to myself (the small voice within), can’t or won’t. I felt my pocket and there was no change, so I reached for my wallet and handed him a dollar. Seeing the loose bills in my wallet he asked if he could have another, I handed him another and as I did an employee came by and shuffled him out. I realized then that his aggressive behavior was likely that he knew he only had a brief moment before he was kicked out, time was of the essence. On their way back in the employee stopped by my table to apologize…apologizing for another human being. Who is my neighbor, I thought to myself?

Philosophy, and even religion for that matter, in many ways seems to be about asking questions, and not necessarily having the answers. Plato, I think, sums this up articulately in his famous but simple statement in his Apology, where Sacrates proclaims “An unexamined life is not worth living” (Plato, n.d.), because I believe with self-examination comes growth, and with growth one realizes that they are not they only person that counts.

There are so many questions which I do not have an answer, but there is one that I do: Who is my neighbor? The answer is everyone, but the difficult part is remembering this and treating each and every person the way that I would like to be treated. But this, I suppose, is what makes us human.

In conclusion, I’ll finish with an eloquent quote from the stoic philosopher, Epictetus, from his slim but inspirational volume, The Art of Living, which I feel summarizes the entire premise of the Golden Rule: “One cannot pursue one’s own highest good without at the same time necessarily promoting the good of others. A life based on narrow self-interest cannot be esteemed by any honorable measurement. Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings. Our contact is not with the few people with whom our affairs are most immediately intertwined, nor to the prominent, rich, or well-educated, but to all our human brethren. View yourself as a citizen of a worldwide community and act accordingly” (Epictetus and Lebell, 2007).

Works Cited

Epictetus and Lebell, S. (2007). The art of living. New York: HarperOne.
Geno, R. (2017). The Meaning of “Namaste”. [online] Yoga Journal. Available at: https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/the-meaning-of-quot-namaste-quot [Accessed 25 Nov. 2017].

Greater Good. (2017). The Compassionate Instinct. [online] Available at: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_compassionate_instinct [Accessed 21 Nov. 2017].

The Holy Bible, New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Bible Publishers.

McIntyre, M. (2014). The kindness of strangers. [Charleston, SC]: CreatSpace.

NPR.org. (2017). Brain Surgeon Walks 6 Miles Through Storm To Save Patient. [online] Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/01/31/269380564/brain-surgeon-walks-six-miles-through-storm-to-save-patient [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

Palmquist, S. (2008, November 8). The Tree of philosophy. Retrieved November 21, 2017, from http://staffweb.hkbu.edu.hk/ppp/tp4/

Plato. The Apology. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from The Internet Classics, http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/apology.html

Sacred-texts.com. (2017). 1:12: Anas: The Prophet said, None of you will have faith till he wishes for his …. [online] Available at: http://www.sacred-    texts.com/isl/bukhari/bh1/bh1_11.htm [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

Sacred-texts.com. (2017). Sacred-Texts: Hinduism. [online] Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/maha/ [Accessed 21 Nov. 2017].

Sacred-texts.com. (2017). Introduction and Preface. [online] Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/tantra/maha/maha00.htm [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

Singer, P. (2016). Most good you can do. New Haven and London: Yale Univ Press.

Tao Te Ching. Acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu. (2017). Tao Te Ching. [online] Available at: http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/taote-v3.html [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

Taylor, R. (1996). Restoring pride: the lost virtue of our age. New York: Prometheus Books. 

Things that can be carried on a bike (#726)…

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“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.”
― Christopher Morley

On the bike…a new 6′ metal shelf still in its packaging. 

 

Freedom Machines and the Ethics of Transportation

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The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.”

~Iris Mudoch

It’s 5:45 am and still dark, the air is chilly but not cold. I straddle my bike and check the sky for rain clouds, the crescent moon is just setting. The morning air brushes against my face as I pedal silently down the darkened street and am chilled only briefly, much in the same way a swimmer is chilled for just the first lap. I pedal and coast through Buffalo’s East Side, which is one of our city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, and I think of an interview I recently read of Reverend Laura Everett, a Boston area pastor, cyclist, and author of the book, Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels, “Bicycles are remarkable because you can go almost anywhere with them—on dirt roads, on gravel, on concrete, over grass. But to ride through the city means that you ride in places that are not glorious but sad and tragic, and have been for a long time. That’s the spiritual life, too” (Faithandleadership.com, 2017).

 

On my 5 ½ mile commute to work I have a unique vantage point. The streets are still dark, some of the house lights are just coming on, and on some mornings I see wildlife, even in the city: raccoon, skunk, rabbits, and even deer that live near the railroad tracks. I arrive at work on time and invigorated, albeit a bit sweaty.

 

This is the second of three papers for an Intro to Ethics class regarding ethics in everyday life. The first paper focused on ethical food choices, mainly: Is it ethical to eat meat in modern society? This paper will focus on transportation choices.

 

While I’ll touch on the detrimental effects of cars on ourselves and our planet, this paper is really about bicycles, which some consider to be the most efficient transportation machine ever built; the rider is both the engine and the cargo (Exploratorium, 2017). I’d also like to add at the onset, that this paper is not about pointing fingers at cars, though I will state some facts, but more so this is about showing how one person can live without a car—by choice—in a car centric society. This said, I should also disclose that I am not a twenty-something, or even forty-something, I am a middle-aged guy in my mid-fifties with creaky knees and reoccurring back problems, but living without a car is still possible.

 

This being said, I also realize that living car-free is not possible for everyone, indeed for many it may be impossible. I choose to live in the inner city where it is relatively easy to get around—mostly I use a bicycle, public transportation, or walk—often a bicycle is quicker than a car for short trips. Walk-Score rates my neighborhood at 93 points, which they consider a “walker’s paradise” (Walk Score, 2017).   I am fully aware that if one resides in the suburbs or a rural area it would be next to impossible to survive without a car.

 

The earliest version of what we now know as a bicycle was invented in Germany around 1817, by Baron Karl von Drais (Burgwardt, 2001). The contraption had no pedals or chain drive, the rider would simply straddle the machine and push and coast their way along. These early contraptions began to be replicated elsewhere and became known as hobby-horses or dandy-horses (Burgwardt, 2001). There were other versions and types of bicycles that followed but the next big change came in the 1870’s with the invention of the “ordinary” bicycle, this is the one that you see in old photos or period movies, it’s the bicycle with the really large wheel in front and the small one in back. This is also the first bicycle to become readily available to the public. The reason this is so significant is that for the first time people had another option besides a horse or their own two feet for personal transportation. Carl F. Burwardt states in his book, Buffalo’s Bicycles, Reflections on Buffalo’s Colossal and Overlooked Bicycle Heritage,

“Mastering it [the bicycle] gave us our first taste of independence and mobility. It gave us the opportunity to travel beyond the limited world of one’s own backyard and neighborhood to find a bigger world where we discovered and acquired a new responsibility for ourselves. Before 1890 most people had been limited to the traditional personal transportation provided by a horse or other animal power. The result was that by 1875 a completely different design of bicycle had been perfected and was now in common use by thousands of people who soon preferred the bicycle to the horse for their  personal transport” (Burgwardt, 2001).

It’s interesting to note that the first gas powered autos were being developed during this same period. While they had predecessors, Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, both of Germany, are most often credited as being the most important pioneers in the early development of the gas powered automobile (Alvord, 2000). Benze ran his car for the first time in 1885 and Daimler ran his in 1886 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017) , though it was Benz who attempted to show that the car could be used for everyday personal travel. Katie Alvord writes in her book, Divorce Your Car, Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile, “1888 Berta Benz (wife of Karl) and sons make the first motorcar trip (62 miles) pushing the car up hills and stopping for several repairs—among them, Berta clears the fuel line with her hairpin and fixes an electrical short using her garters as insulating tape” (Alvord, 2000).

 

Then came the most significant development in the early history of the bicycle, the “ordinary bicycle” was replaced by the safety bicycle. This ordinary resembled those we ride today, two medium sized wheels and chain driven. It was also safer to ride than the tall ordinary, thus the name safety.

 

By the 1890s, the bicycle was the most sought after form of personal transport, and it’s interesting to note that better road condition, such as paving, and in fact the very rules of the road came about not because of the automobile but the bicycle, “The active, popular, and common use of the bicycle by the 1890s created a need for riding rules of the roads now crowded with bicyclists. These regulations became our present driving rules of the road. More and more cyclists were now traveling farther from home and needed traveling directions. This created the need for erecting road signs and printing road maps for the cyclists” (Burgwardt, 2001).

 

The roads themselves were in such bad shape, if existent at all, and were often nothing but muddy, ruddy paths. In response to this a movement began with a push to improve the roads, which was spearheaded by the newly formed bicycle advocacy group, The League of American Wheelmen, known currently as The League of American Bicyclists. This movement became known as the Good Roads Movement, and the person mostly credited with it’s foresight, and who became known as the “Father of Good Roads,” is Horatio Earle (En.wikipedia.org, 2017). As quoted from his 1929 autobiography, The Autobiography of “By Gum” Earle, “I often hear now-a-days, the automobile instigated good roads; that the automobile is the parent of good roads. Well, the truth is, the bicycle is the father of the good roads movement in this country. The League fought for equal privileges with horse-drawn vehicles. All these battles were won and the bicyclist was accorded equal rights with other users of highways and streets” (Google Books, 2017). It’s interesting to note, that because of this movement, to this day in NY State (and most states) the bicycle has the same road rights as a car (NY DOT, 2017).

 

This background information is simply to illustrate that the development of the bicycle and car occurred nearly simultaneously, and how both vehicles had a great impact on our society. But one of them had and continues to have detrimental effects, not just on or planet, but also our cities, and even us as individuals.

 

As I commute to work each morning I cross a bridge that crosses the Kensington Expressway, also known locally as “the 33,” named after its route number. This is a classic example of a highway that runs from the inner city to the first or second ring suburbs. Its sole reason for being built was to transport people quickly from the city to the suburbs, and it does this quite efficiently. The problem is that it literally cut the city into two, destroying neighborhoods along the way. This is not unique to Buffalo, of course. Katie Alvord writes, “In the 1960s, only 40 percent of U.S. city dwellers owned cars. Interstates took homes from these residents, ruining neighborhood businesses on which they relied and favoring chain stores, which could afford the high price of locating near freeway exits” (Alvord, 2000).

 

It’s also worthy to note that many of these highways that slash through cities often do so in African American neighborhoods, “U.S. interstate construction leveled so many African-American homes for highways that interstates were called white roads through black bedrooms” (Alvord, 2000). This migration of white families to the suburbs became known as the “white flight.”

 

I first learned to ride a bike when I was quite young, maybe 7 or 8 years old, and I did so in the housing project where I spent my youth, which resides directly next to the Kensington Expressway. At that time—in the 1960s—the expressway was being built. Friends and I would ride down the unopened highway for fun. A few years later, when my family purchased our first car, we too became part of the white flight and moved to the suburbs, the American dream.

 

The proliferation of the car also shaped outlying towns and villages and re-shaped cities. In the suburbs, for example, more often than not, houses are built with large attached garages, usually a front feature of the house, with plenty of driveway space for vehicles. Shopping malls and suburban plazas are fronted or surrounded by acres of parking space. In cities, besides the aforementioned urban to suburban highways, there had to be plenty of parking. This sometimes takes shape as older buildings are leveled to accommodate the inundating automobile.

 

On my way home from work recently, and thinking about this paper, I stopped my bike on the bridge that crosses the 33. It was rush hour and as I peered down at the slow moving vehicles I counted, took a casual toll at what I saw. What I was counting was how many vehicles had more than one person in them. I counted for just a few minutes, but on average there was more than one person in every 12th vehicle, the others had only the driver. American cars, while more efficient than they used to be, are actually heavier than they used to be also (Lowrey, 2017). Today the average American vehicle tops 4000 pounds. Two tons of metal, plastic, and rubber to carry a single rider to and from work. Despite the movement of families to downsize to one car or to go car free, the amount of cars that Americans own still continues to rise. Last year there were 261 million cars registered in America, it is projected that this year the number will jump to nearly 270 million (H and Company, 2017) .

 

Given the sheer number of cars on the road there are bound to be accidents, lots of them. Cars crash into things, hit each other, hit bicyclists, and pedestrians. The first casualty recorded, as being hit by a car, was in 1896; Bridget Driscoll was a pedestrian in London when she was hit and killed.

 

People sometimes comment or question me if I am not afraid to ride a bike in the city, and that they could never do it. Yes, I tell them, it can be harrowing at times, but it is still far more dangerous to be in a car. According to the US Department of Transportation more than 37,000 people died from automobile related accidents in 2016, this is a 5.6 percent increase from the previous year (US DOT, 2017)  some sources claim the number to be more than 40,000 fatalities (Nsc.org, 2017).  Inversely, the website of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center tells us that 818 people were killed while riding a bicycle in 2015, the figure was expected to rise the following year (Pedbikeinfo.org, 2017). Simple math will yield that there are 40-50 times more automobile fatalities each year than there with bicycles.

 

I’d be remiss in writing this paper if I didn’t comment on the stark contrast to the health befits to riding a bicycle to the detrimental effects autos have on our environment. The many health benefits of riding a bike for transportation are mostly obvious, and the website of the Harvard Medical School lists five of them: It is easy on your joints, provides an aerobic workout, builds muscle, helps with balancing, and builds bone strength (Harvard Publishing, 2017). I’d like to add to this list, burns calories and helps with mental health. Nowhere, of course, is there any information claiming the bicycle bad for our environment or contributing to climate change.

 

A recent NY Times article, citing it’s contradictory stance to the Trump administration’s position on climate change, states via an exhaustive report that it is unquestionable that cars are a continuing factor to the health of our climate, “Over the past 115 years global average temperatures have increased 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to record-breaking weather events and temperature extremes. The global long term warming trend is unambiguous, and there is no convincing alternative explanation that anything other than humans—the cars we drive, the power plants we operate, the forests we destroy—are to blame.”

 

I could, of course, carry on for many more pages with this discourse citing examples of the negative affects of cars on us personally and our planet. While this may seem in some ways a long rant against the car it isn’t. I don’t think it is practical that we do not have cars on the road, just that they aren’t used to often or mindlessly. Indeed I am very thankful that our police, ambulance, and fire departments have powerful vehicles. But my argument, which is really the entire gist of this paper, is that I believe people should consider transportation alternatives. Is it possible to use your gas-powered vehicle less? Can you take public transportation sometimes? How about car-pooling/ride-sharing? Personally, the cost of car ownership—which most sources cite at between $8000 and $10,000 per year—is enough for me to reconsider transportation alternatives (NBC4 Washington, 2017). Or, if I wanted to display the confident arrogance that I believe Richard Taylor states throughout his book, Restoring Pride: The Lost Virtue of Our Age (Taylor, 1996), I could say simply and straightforwardly that there is so much evidence on the negative affects of cars on ourselves and our planet there is no reason we should each individually own one and drive one solo each day.

 

Though because I wrote this and spewed out a few facts does not make me perfectly ethical in regards to my transport. I do belong to a car share program where there is a car available if I need it, which I do use a few times a year. I do ride bicycles year round, yes even in Buffalo’s winters, but thanks to climate change, which is likely at least partly due to human activity, such as driving too many gas-powered vehicles, winters are no longer as severe as they once were.

 

To get a bit philosophical regarding bicycles, they are to me more than simply getting from point A to point B. When I am on a bike I am not enclosed in the climate controlled capsule of a car but am an active part of my environment, and I’m keenly aware of my surroundings. I am also often aware and appreciative of my body, especially as I get older, that my body is the engine with food as it’s fuel, this is also true of when I walk. I am very grateful that I am able to transport myself, even with my creaky knees and sometimes painful back. In many ways riding a bike for me is a form of meditation and even prayer, especially in the early pre-dawn hours.

 

In my kitchen at home I have a small framed print by the cartoonist Andy Singer. In it there are two frames, one has a cartoon of a man in a car stuck in a traffic who is screaming into a cell phone, and above it there is the title, “Successful Man.” The frame below shows a man walking, carrying nothing, just simply walking. He has a blissful look on his face; the title for this frame is “Unsuccessful Man.” These, I think are the norms that our society sees.

 

By riding a bike, or more specifically by not owning and driving a car every day, is in many ways living outside what our society thinks of as normal. When I accepted my current employment, about 6 months ago, my daily commute went from being about 2 miles each way to slightly more than 5 miles each way. People asked if I were going to get a car, some suggested that I do. Instead I got a better bike, and take public transportation when it rains. For me living without a car is normal. I really believe that I am a better person because of it. And If it makes me a better person to myself then it is only natural that I can be a better person to those around me and in society in general. I am also very concerned about the planet we leave for our children and children’s children. These things alone, I think makes it worth it.

 

This said, I’ll finish with a quote from Reverend Everett as I believe she sums up my sentiments nicely, “My life is better. My world is bigger. My friends are more diverse. My city is better-known to me on a bicycle. Part of what a bicycle gives is a sense of urgency and freedom. I can move of my own accord, and I’m not an especially fit person. I’m not dependent upon a car or the timetable of a bus line. When bicycles were first introduced to commercial markets, some ads called them “freedom machines” (Faithandleadership.com, 2017).

Works and Sites Cited:

Alvord, K. (2000). Divorce your car!. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers.

Burgwardt, C. (2001). Buffalo’s bicycles. Orchard Park, N.Y.: Pedaling History Bicycle Museum.

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2017). automobile – History of the automobile. [online] Available at:     https://www.britannica.com/technology/automobile/History-of-the-automobile

[Accessed 5 Nov. 2017].

En.wikipedia.org. (2017). Good Roads Movement. [online] Available at:     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Roads_Movement [Accessed 6 Nov. 2017].

Exploratorium: the museum of science, art and human perception. (2017). Science of Cycling:     Human Power | Exploratorium. [online] Available at:     https://www.exploratorium.edu/cycling/humanpower1.html [Accessed 4 Nov. 2017].

Faithandleadership.com. (2017). Laura Everett: Riding my bicycle is a sp iritual discipline |     Faith and Leadership. [online] Available at: https://www.faithandleadership.com/laura-    everett-riding-my-bicycle-spiritual-discipline [Accessed 4 Nov. 2017].

Google Books. (2017). The Autobiography of “By Gum” Earle. [online] Available at:

https://books.google.com/books?id=433hAAAAMAAJ&q=inauthor:

%22Horatio+Sawyer+Earle%22&dq=inauthor:%22Horatio+Sawyer+Earle    %22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjV4c21mbDXAhWKxlQKHVYCDa8Q6AEIJjAA     [Accessed 7 Nov. 2017].

H. and Company (2017). US VIO Vehicle Registration Data Statistics, Fast Quote on Car,     Motorycle and Light Truck Stats. [online] Hedges & Company. Available at:     https://hedgescompany.com/automotive-market-research-statistics/auto-mailing-lists-and-    marketing [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

Harvard Publishing (2017). The top 5 benefits of cycling – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard     Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-top-5-benefits-    of-cycling [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

Lowrey, A. (2017). American cars are getting heavier and heavier. Is that dangerous?. [online]     Slate Magazine. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/

moneybox/2011/06/your_big_car_is_killing_me.html [Accessed 1 Nov. 2017].

NBC4 Washington. (2017). AAA Study: True Cost of Car Ownership in 2017. [online] Available     at: https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/business/AAA-Study-True-Cost-of-Car-    Ownership-2017–441519803.html [Accessed 29 Oct. 2017].

Nsc.org. (2017). Motor Vehicle Deaths in 2016 Estimated to be Highest in Nine Years – NSC     News Releases. [online] Available at:     http://www.nsc.org/Connect/NSCNewsReleases/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=180 [Accessed     7 Nov. 2017].

NY DOT, (2017). [online] Available at:     https://www.dot.ny.gov/display/programs/bicycle/safety_laws/laws#1231

[Accessed 30 Oct. 2017].

Pedbikeinfo.org. (2017). Pedestrian & Bicycle Information Center. [online] Available at:     http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/data/factsheet_crash.cfm [Accessed 2 Nov. 2017].

Taylor, R. (1996). Restoring pride: the lost virtue of our age. New York: Prometheus Books.

US DOT (2017). USDOT Releases 2016 Fatal Traffic Crash Data. [online] NHTSA. Available     at: https://www.nhtsa.gov/press-releases/usdot-releases-2016-fatal-traffic-crash-data     [Accessed 29 Oct. 2017].

Walk Score. (2017). Find Apartments for Rent and Rentals – Get Your Walk Score. [online]     Available at: https://www.walkscore.com/ [Accessed 2 Nov. 2017].

Five or Eight Quotes from Howard Thurman…

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November 18, 1899 – April 10, 1981

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

 “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” 

“During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism.” 

“It is very easy to sit in judgement upon the behavior of others, but often difficult to realize that every judgement is a self-judgement.”

“Often, to be free means the ability to deal with the realities of one’s own situation so as not to be overcome by them.” 

“And this is the strangest of all paradoxes of the human adventure; we live inside all experience, but we are permitted to bear witness only to the outside. Such is the riddle of life and the story of the passing of our days.”

“There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful.”

 

“There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful.”

More in the Five Quotes series.

Fifty Six Autumns…

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“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

~Albert Camus

Fifty Six Autumns.

That’s how many I’ve seen. Of course I don’t remember them all, especially the earliest ones. But it was on this day fifty six years ago that I came into the world, whether I wanted to or not. Though if I am to believe the mystics (and I do), it was my choice to enter into this particular life…this time, my family, the circumstances that make up my life. All of it. And it’s interesting to think how at the turn of a new year—which for many can be an introspective time—we do it collectively. Though a birthday, which for me is also introspective, is done at a personal level, or usually with just a few. At a new year many people make resolutions, myself included, and most are unsustainable. I also do this at birthdays, but rather than calling them resolutions, which sounds so formal, I refer to them as goals. While still rather lofty, they seem more attainable. But if I stumble, that’s okay, too. I’ll begin again, that’s all I can do. And that is actually my first goal for this next birthday year…to go easy on myself; cut myself some slack. Here’s a few others that come to mind, in no particular order…

Attend church regularly.

Meditate daily (if even for just a few minutes) .

Pray often (be grateful and in the moment).

Blog, journal, and write more.

Facebook less.

Do more push-ups.

Practice simple yoga (stretch!)

Reduce expenses.

Care more.

Connect.

Do more art.

I could go on, but this is a good start. It’s a fluid list. If I do all or at least some of these things even somewhat regularly I truly believe that I will continue to grow and be a better person, which will naturally lead to being of greater service in this world. Thank you for letting me be part of yours. Now to get started…

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