Bikes and bridges
In simpler times, everyone was either all good or all bad, influenced by an internal desire to be purely one or the other
My best friend and his parents taught me how to ride a bike this summer. And if there’s one thing I realized while taking my daily 20-minute half-biked commute from my summer residence to the Davis Square T station for work, it has to be that the world isn’t as pristine as it once was.
The road I used to believe was fairly smooth and uneventful from the perspective of a car or being on foot became almost unbearably full of potholes and muddy puddles from the perspective of a perilous bike. And this rudimentary line of thinking could go on, extended as a statement toward global warming or the pandemic or war or myriad other happenings. The perspective we take affects our view on almost everything in society; the calm tides to the pilot are rough seas to a sailor.
But what I mean is, I used to think that getting along with everyone else would be so easy: there always seemed to be obvious rights and wrongs or a clear distinction between victims and perpetrators. In simpler times, everyone was either all good or all bad, influenced by an internal desire to be purely one or the other.
After all, if all the rules and morals are already predetermined by society, how difficult would it be to just follow them? I thought, naively of course, that if I tried my hardest to stay safely on the appropriate side of that “good-bad” line, life would be good and I would be perceived as such. Life, however, is not that simple. Rules conflict with each other, and even society’s morals may not be correct on an individual or circumstantial basis.
When we are raised in a controlled K-12 environment, these metaphorical potholes of life seem obvious and avoidable. But while we might be able to swerve to avoid a bump in the road, it’s much more difficult to control the effects of that action, especially with others on the road too. Even worse is when we don’t see the obstacle speeding toward us at all.
But what I’ve had to learn the hard way these past few years in college is that in the context of a large world, even the most well-intentioned actions could lead to undesirable consequences. To be trite, hindsight is 20/20.
Indeed, to be perceived as an ideal individual, one must always don their most polished facade, even if it hurts to do so. Perhaps one’s inability to maintain this facade as a result of a “bad day” could be perceived by others as a dispositional tendency to be malevolent or rude, and we all make mistakes and misjudgements from time to time. While there are undoubtedly actions which I consider inexcusable, I think we would all benefit from giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
While I can try my best to be “perfect,” it’s fundamentally impossible to achieve.
But this is still oversimplified. For example, there’s often a power imbalance in conflicts, whether this is explicitly codified or not. Most importantly, whether we like it or not, sometimes we need to prioritize ourselves and our own happiness, but an individual or group runs so counter to that value that the only option would be to burn some bridges. While this solution is far from optimal and easier said than done, in many situations, there is no other option. It is this aspect that has been the most difficult for me to accept. I might only have the opportunity to build new and better bridges if I remove the dysfunctional ones that are weighing me down.
I’ll be the first to say that I’m not the most confrontational. I’ll accept that part of that is due to my temperament. But in addition to that, growing up, I was often taught to just take the blows, to accept that things were happening to me and to understand that the best solution would be the path of least resistance. I must simultaneously stomach a bad day and continue to function as though nothing had happened in the eyes of society. I must always be kind and always say no in the most roundabout of ways, all to avoid direct conflict.
While this ingrained mindset certainly worked to keep me agreeable (and more importantly, quiet) when I was younger, I’ve discovered only through numerous situations in the past few months that as a result of my outlook, I’ve lost much of the courage to stand up for myself. This often builds up until the situation becomes much worse, if only internally, than if I had just taken the risk to confront. I will need to make an active effort to regain that ability.
Unfortunately, however, I have in some ways allowed this to go on for too long, and some of that responsibility has inadvertently fallen onto the shoulders of my friends, which is something that I will try to minimize in the future (and would ideally never happen at all).
In many ways, learning how to ride a bike is similar to conflict resolution. In both cases, I strive for a sense of balance and sometimes, I fall down. But the important thing is surrounding myself with people who support me and help me get back on my feet, who make me realize that while I am still learning things that may have come significantly earlier or easier to many, I am still valued.
As for me? I hope that I’ll learn how to build some new, sturdier bridges. Taking that statement purely out of context, that’s what I came to MIT for, isn’t it?