Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fear and Negativity: Don’t even think about it

Before I posted my last piece about the Australian road rage incident, I faced a dilemma; should I post the story or not. Most times, I shy away from posting negative articles.

However, I decided to go ahead, because I knew others would run with the story anyway. I felt that bringing a story like this, involving high profile riders, to public attention might cause others to think twice about the seriousness of doing something similar.

It was never my intention to strike fear into cyclists. Fear is one of the basic instincts we share with all creatures of this earth. Fear of death or injury ensures survival of the various species.

Politicians and the media play on this primal instinct to benefit their own ends, with negative advertising and negative reporting. However, I see a difference between reporting something that actually happened, as opposed to discussing what could happen. The media does this all too often.

Do you remember Y2K and how all kinds of terrible things would happen at the stroke of midnight on January 1st. 2000. That time and date came and went and nothing happened, and the media moved on to find other items to scare us.

Whatever happened to the Bird Flu? Did it suddenly disappear, or did they find a miracle cure? Because a few short years ago we were all going to catch this terrible disease, old people and children would die from it. It was spread by birds and mosquitoes, those little critters are everywhere.

I quit watching the news on TV because it is so negative and depressing, and the terrible thing is it is not news. At worst, it is fiction; at its best, it is irrelevant issues grossly exaggerated and blown out of all proportion.

I get the news I need from the Internet; and I often see the same negativity there; however, I can be selective in what I read.

The problem is, being constantly fed a diet of fear and negativity; it creeps into people's lives and their everyday thinking. We speculate on the worst that could happen.

I see it on the various bike forums and blogs, where cyclists recall the near misses, and their run-ins with aggressive drivers. The problem is, the person posting is re-living the event, and causing others to re-live their bad experiences. We cannot erase bad events that have happened in the past, but we can learn from them and move on.

Is it any wonder that some, who would ride a bike, are afraid to ride on the road? A person might wonder why anyone rides there at all, if it is that bad. The truth is it is not that bad, if you look at the situation from a more positive viewpoint.

A few years ago, lived a wise and holy man from India named Sri Nisargadatta. During the 1970s he gave interviews with anyone who cared to sit with him and ask questions. These interviews were recorded, then translated into English, and published in a book called “I am that.”

Many times throughout the book he is asked, “How do you feel about all the wars, death and destruction around the world, and what about all the disease and suffering?" He would always answer, “This is in your world, not mine.”

On the surface this seems a somewhat uncaring attitude, however, I can understand this answer, having just read an online post by a cyclist. The writer asks why the hatred from other road users, why do they scream abuse at him, throw trash at him, and try to run him off the road?

The cyclist is from another state in the south, not far from South Carolina where I live. How different can drivers be, between the two states? Yet none of these terrible experiences he relates, ever happen to me. Like Sri Nisargadatta I could answer, “This is in your world, not mine."

The difference is, when I set out for a bike ride I do so with a positive attitude and I am not expecting the worst will happen. I go riding with the attitude that most people on the road a simply a cross section of the population and for the most part are inherently, good, decent people. Only a tiny minority are criminally inclined, and malicious.

We all know that many drivers are inattentive, however, they are not inattentive 100% of the time, so the chances of them being distracted at the precise moment they pass me is remote. In other words, the odds of my not being hit are far greater than being hit, so why should I dwell on the thought that that a slight possibility might occur.

Most successful people believe in the power of positive thinking; the problem is negative thoughts are just as powerful. We attract to ourselves whatever we hold in our thoughts. A person riding a bike with the attitude that all drivers are morons will attract the behavior they expect.

It is natural to have negative thoughts and to fear the worst, not only are we bombarded with negativity from the media, we get it constantly from work colleagues and those around us; plus as previously mentioned, fear is a basic instinct.

However, as humans we are capable of rationalizing, and do not need to live our lives in constant fear. We are all freethinking spirits and we do not have to dwell on the negative.

Something else I have learned; the things that annoy me as I go through life have a tendency to keep repeating. I try to recognize these re-occurring annoyances, observe them as such, but try not to get angry. After doing this a few times, the annoyance stops re-occurring.

If bad experiences are happening to you every time you ride, realize these bad incidents involve different people. The only common denominator in these totally random incidents is you.

There is a tendency to find whatever we look for. If we look for the worst in people, this is most likely what we will find. Turn that around and realize that there are more good people in this world than bad.

I try to fill my mind with good positive thoughts before I even set out on a ride; I have no control over the thoughts and actions of others, only those of my own.

I don't worry if negative thoughts slip back in, because I know they will. I am conscious of these thoughts and replace them with a positive one. A positive thought will always cancel out a negative one, as surely as light will overcome darkness, and good will overcome bad.

If you are skeptical, try it anyway; what have you got to lose? Just your bad experiences.


Doug said...

Well said Dave. There is a woman in our local cycling club that always complains about dogs chasing her. She carries a lot of anger towards the owners, always threatening to sue them. During one ride last summer she was recounting her latest dog experience when she was bitten. Later in the ride we passed a farm where there are two dogs that always chase cyclists. After passing the farm, word came up through the group that the dog had bitten one of our riders. Guess who it bit? You got it, the woman who carries all the negativity and anger towards dogs and their owners. I've been chased dozens of times by those two dogs and they've never bitten me. I really do believe her negativity led to her being the one they decided to bite.

Anonymous said...

Great post Dave! Could not agree with these thoughts more. The general theme here is don't spend time worrying about things that you cannot control.

My favourite thing to do to people when they say things like 'you make me so angry' is to respond with 'you choose to feel angry'. Often it annoys them further but it is very true.

Ed W said...

I know a guy who stopped riding to work due to all the aggression and intimidation he experienced. Oddly, he lived near me and works across the hall from me. We traveled the same roads at nearly the same time of day, yet I rarely encounter any problems. Perhaps he's some sort of karmic lightning rod, because his woes extend past cycling into the rest of his life.

Anonymous said...

Recognizing I've been influenced too by media and other worst case prognostications the TV is off. I may now focus on generating positive experiences for others. My world has a string threory I uncovered when recalling a positive relationship that I was 'on a string'. That discovery led me to inventory the other strings that I had invited to moor on me.

Anonymous said...

"The Secret" for cyclists?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! This type of positive thinking translates well into all avenues of life.

Marla said...

Well stated. I find the media too negative, so I also turn the TV off! Keep up the great posts.

Anonymous said...

"Consider then overcome fear!"
(Life is too short for self-doubt.)
Are you related to Mr. Alexander Moulton of Moulton Development LTD. a bicycle ware innovator?
Patent review identified him.
Aside, Tim at MASI is recovering from a BAD track incident.

Anonymous said...

"In other words, the odds of my not being hit are far greater than being hit, so why should I dwell on the thought that that a slight possibility might occur."

Because when it happens (and it will) on a bike, you always come off second best.

IMO, we owe it to ourselves and each other to try and change the situation.

Unknown said...

I can't really get behind this... do you feel that wrapping oneself in positive thoughts will actually prevent negative outcomes from occurring? Or am I reading too much into this? It sorta sounds like blaming the victim... the S. Carolina rider gets garbage thrown at him because he expected to be treated unkindly. Having ridden in N. and S. Carolina, I can assure you people will throw lit cigarettes at you, swerve at you, scream at you as they race up behind you, etc., no matter how cheerful and positive you happen to be feeling that day.

I do feel it's important to acknowledge unpleasant information about our world, so we can accurately assess our situation and do something about it.

Anonymous said...

Every time I get on a bike it is with positive thoughts. Riding with a group of friends this weekend I must have been the only rider with positive thoughts...I rode confidently without a helmet or fear.

Grump said...

I often see "silly" drivers. I rarely see agressive drivers who try to scare you. Only once have I seen an aggressive driver who wanted to hurt someone.
For the first time, last year, I was hit by a "silly" driver. Since I've been riding for 25 years now, those are pretty good stats.
Riding your bike is safer than walking down basement stairs.

mark worden said...

I think I will continue to wear a helmut! I fell and split one in half a few years ago! But the two options in life seem to be to go live and enjoy the life you want, or stay in bed in a little room all day. Not hard to make that choice!

A couple weeks ago there was a 60+ year old triathlete swimming just off shore with a group in Solana Beach Ca., which is near where I live. As you probably read he was killed by a great white shark. Beaches were closed for a couple days and then everyone went back in the water. It's hard to keep a cyclist off a bike and a surfer off a board!

Anonymous said...

I'm all for positive thinking, but it has to be accompanied by a dose of realism.

Positive thinking is like religion in the sense that it doesn't absolve us from taking appropriate measures that are available to us. It's fine to think positive, but it won't prevent you from being thrown from you car in an accident if you don't buckle up. Neither positive thinking nor praying will prevent a heart attack if someone is careless about their health. And neither will prevent you from getting a disabling concussion or worse if you happen to fall on your head.

In the old days, about which I'm qualified to talk about unfortunately, we didn't wear a helmet, but then, there were no helmets to wear, and when there were, they weren't very practical. But that's not the case today. Practical, extremely light, well-ventilated helmets are readily available and affordable, so it would not make sense not to take advantage of them. It's kind of the same as wearing lycra. It exists, and so people who ride road bikes wear it so they can be both more efficient and more comfortable.

For the recalcitrants and the misguided libertarians, do whatever you want. I may need another kidney transplant some day. The supply doesn't meet demand partly because of better safety in all kinds of activities. The best kidneys usually come from brain injuries, but there just aren't as many of those as there used to be.

Anonymous said...

I have to comment on the whole Y2K comment. I see this over and over, and it is ridiculous, uninformed nonsense.

Why didn't any thing happen at the stroke of midnight and Dec. 31, 1999? Well, because my wife, and thousands of other coders, went through system code, line by line, for months before that date. That's why. Line by line. Late nights, long hours. Line by line. Fixing problems that WERE there and WOULD have caused problems.

So while you continue to spread the lie that there was no problem because nothing happened, realize that people and organizations recognized that there was going to be a problem and took steps to mitigate the problem.

That's why nothing (much) happened, not because the media was wrong.

veloben said...


I've read your thoughtful posts for awhile now and enjoy them immensely. You are right that being positive will make for a better experience. I don't think it 'protects' or diverts bad events in any real way. What being positive about a ride gives you is a perspective that defends you from seeing every event/circumstance as being about you or confirmation that someone/thing is out to get you.

Drivers take all kinds of lines when driveing. Some favor the left side of the lane, some right. Others get target fixation when passing and tha draws them into a slightly closer pass than I might like, but barring a secondary (yelling) overt act (and I've received some too) being positive allows me to stay comfortable on the bike.

That out look is different than filtering the media or thinking that thinking positive will protect you. Yeah the network news is trash, it's all entertainment now, but looking for just the stuff you are comfortable with on the net to stay informed means you will miss other important items. Being disturbed/upset is a good thing in small doses. It keeps us alert.

I'm with mh the Y2K bugs could have caused a lot of damage and may still bite us in some way. The software company I worked for basically took a 12 month hit on income to be sure everything, including the macros we got from other vendors (like IBM) were right and we just did library automation software.

As a new national election cycle winds up there will be a lot more fear mongering and loathing coming our way, passivity doesn't make it go away.

amidnightrider said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
amidnightrider said...

I wrote about an incident on on bikejournals recently. It was the first one in a few years. But, I really wonder how many I have not noticed or cared about because I was enjoying the ride.

BTW This past one was 30 minutes after leaving one of my worse days at work. I'm thinking I was in the "bring it on" mode.