Monday, October 5, 2009
You, sir, are not like me.
Is it better or is it worse to encounter in your daily life people who are not like you?
I think most would say that it is better to encounter a diversity of people. However, most choose to live around others similar to themselves, which would speak to the contrary. Certainly, auto-dependent and traditionally homogenous suburbs do quite a bit to keep their residents selectively isolated.
One such experience today got me thinking about the question. While on a bike ride, I waited at a light to turn from 12th onto Walnut. As the light changed the other way, an African American biker transitioned from the sidewalk to the road, signaling his way with the "ding ding!' of a bell attached to his handlebars, offering a polite thank-you as he passed.
Within a few blocks I had caught up to him and found myself biking side-by-side. This experience is a pleasing one, for reasons related to physics, and because I feel safer and more relaxed when taking up the whole lane with another rider. (This practice is perfectly legitimate in Center City, where there is no bike lane and the right lane is thus reserved for bikes and for buses.)
Soon we crossed through an intersection, and he alerted some jaywalking pedestrians of our passage again with his bell. "I like your bell," I said.
"Thanks," he replied. "My partner gave it to me."
"Yeah, I want him to get one for my grandson, too. I know he'd like that," he responded.
"It's useful, too," I added.
"Yeah." We rode a bit more. "I'm heading up Sixteenth Street here, so you have a good day," he said. And we parted ways.
I don't know how many gay African American grandparents I've met before. I don't think that number is very high, but you wouldn't expect it to be for someone like me either. Yet by virtue of using a non-isolated mode of transportation, and by living in a city where many kinds of people reside, we came into contact just by chance.
Though I suspect there is virtue in such experiences, I am not exactly sure what that virtue is. I do think it is helpful just to be reminded that there are ranges of experience drastically different from my own, that the world is a lot bigger than I conceive it to be.