Safety on Bikes, and the Choice of Denial

Photo Credit: Capgros / stock.xchg

Over at A Girl and Her Gun, there’s an interesting post today about bike riding and safety. AGirl links to this discussion on a woman’s bicycling forum about safety when riding alone. Many of the women who posted there expressed the view that carrying guns is an overreaction, dangerous, even paranoid, and certainly not a viable thing to do when one is biking. The few who posted in support of being armed while riding were pretty much jumped all over by the others.

AGirl correctly points out that:

The tendency for some will be to read the comments left by these women and then say they are stupid or they deserve to get mugged, raped, killed because they are sheep. I don’t think anyone, no matter how clueless, naive, or thickheaded deserves any of those things. My main goal, now, in writing this blog is to find ways to relate to those people and help them understand the flaws in their thinking.

I totally agree with her, insofar as the truth is that connecting with anti-gun folks, really understanding their viewpoint, and encouraging them to do some “reality testing” of that viewpoint is the only way to make any inroads of understanding. The truth is, most anti-gun folks hold their views just as sincerely as we hold pro-gun ones, and the only way those views will evolve is when those people themselves realize the flaws in their thinking. Sometimes we can help them do it, but too often it takes a life-changing tragedy to cause people to re-examine deeply held beliefs.

What I wanted to talk about, though, is an attitude I saw in that discussion. It’s sort of saying, “facing the reality that bad things could happen to me and I’m unprepared is too scary, so I’ll just pretend they can’t happen.” And this is an attitude that a lot of those who are opposed to guns and self-defense seem to have. I wonder, sometimes, if the reason they’re opposed to us arming ourselves is that if we can do things to make ourselves safe, then they can’t cling to that “bad stuff happens and I can’t change it so I might as well bury my head in the sand” idea. After all, if we can keep ourselves safe from bad things, so could they. But if there’s nothing anyone can do (so they think), then one could be forgiven for doing nothing. Right?

I think this is where a lot of the “blame the victim” thinking comes from. People don’t like to admit that trouble can find anyone – including them – and so they look for something, anything the victim “did wrong”. Because then they can tell themselves, “oh, I’d never do <whatever it is they decided the victim ‘did wrong’>, so I’ll be safe.” Which works just fine, right up until the moment that it doesn’t. Denial is powerful and seductive because denial lets us pretend the world is all unicorns and puppy dogs. Denial lets us pretend that the hunters aren’t out there. Denial lets us delude ourselves into thinking it couldn’t happen to us.

Sobering statistic of the day: According to the last time I looked at the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, the annual per capita risk of being a violent crime victim (that is, the risk that any given person will be a victim in any given year) is only slightly smaller than the annual per capita risk of suffering a house fire. So, why don’t we tell people that having smoke alarms and homeowner’s insurance is paranoid and reactionary? Why don’t we tell schools not to bother with fire drills. After all, “it’s so unlikely to happen.” Except that the fact the risk is small doesn’t mean it’s zero. And we humans are, cognitively, not the best at evaluating relative risks anyway.

So I totally agree with AGirl about  the importance of reaching out to inform and educate and build bridges of understanding with people. But I also recognize that moving people from denial to action and from passivity to self-reliance can be a challenge. We can try, but in the end all we can ultimately control is our own preparation and our own self-reliance.

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