The east and west coasts of the U.S. may be getting closer due to air travel, but it's still a bloody long time to sit in an airplane seat. During the round trip there was plenty of opportunity for me to reflect on this past year. My motorcycle training season has ended. Travel to the east coast caused me to miss our end of the year banquet. It's a great time to see old friends and for all of us to wrap up the year together. This is the first time I've missed the event. So I had to do my own wrap-up.
One of these years I'm going to write a book. I think I'll copy Robert Fulgham who wrote "All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten". My book will be called "All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned on a Motorcycle".
Yes, I'm still in that philosophical rut about how lessons in life and in riding intertwine. It's also a pretty deep endeavour for a Road Warrior. Kind of like asking an elephant to do a waltz. Strike up the band, Johnny, because Matilda's going to give it a whirl!
One particular thought came into my conscious recognition this year. It's something I have always sort of realized but never voiced. During my musings on the plane the watery substances gelled into a solid mass of quivering Jello. Suddenly it was clear. At least as clear as red Jello gets. Hey, I'm a Redneck, what kind of analogy were you expecting? Actually, I used the term Redneck with a clear purpose. It's a label. That's the point of my sharing this.
There are a lot of labels that people attach to other people. Some are innocent and some aren't. Giving to others with the goal of helping them to achieve success is a great way to remove the labels. Motorcycle training is my own personal vehicle to go down this road. As do many things related to riding, the principle applies to other aspects of life. Thus would be the premise of my book, in case you hadn't figured that out by now.
I grew up in a small town. Rural America. Grandpa was a blue collar cowboy. Literally. He always bragged that he had me riding a horse before I could walk. I was brought up immersed in that setting. Gramp was a good man. He taught me morals and manners, respect for others, chivalry towards women, and the fine art of fisticuffs. There's more but you get the idea.
The other side of the coin is that those who didn't fit his picture of what a person should be were distrusted. A guy who could work but wouldn't. People who let their homes develop a "trashy" look. God forbid a man should show up with long hair. Even worse, a pony tail! I remember a few guys being offered a hair cut with Grandpa's sheep sheers. Even I would get threatened if I went too long between haircuts.
"You either need to get a hair cut or a dog license!", he'd tell me.
Interestingly, the labels always had to do with how a person presented themselves by either dress or actions. Never by race, religion, or skin color. In Gramp's world, a man was a man as long as they acted in the way Gramp thought a man should act. I know it was a somewhat narrow view of the world, based as it was upon Gramp's definitions. However, I can honestly say that racism has never been a issue for me.
One of the great things about those days is that troublemakers would get a quiet "talking to" in a dark alley. I kid you not, I was there as a teen for some of those sessions. The "trouble" either quit or the perpetrator left town. I think one of the reasons this worked so well was that Gramp had worked his way up to assistant police chief by then. It was never really violent. The force of numbers might have implied it, but I never saw or heard of anyone being physically hurt. The troublemaker was informed that his actions weren't approved of by the rest. Having the men of a town hold someone accountable was kind of a good thing. The labels weren't such a good thing.
Again, to be honest, when I see a guy with his ass hanging out and his pants down to mid thigh I'm not favorably impressed. I associate that with ganster rappers. That's a pretty negative picture in my mind. It might just be a kid trying to fit in with his peers but what he presents is a pretty strong label.
To one degree or another, like I said above, I firmly believe we all use labels and form preconceived notions about others. On the surface, I don't think that's by itself a bad thing. As long as we're willing to stand corrected by further discovery. The harm occurs when we let those labels stand in the way of discovering what's in a person's heart. Forming an initial impression should be a very distinct thing from judging a person's character by their words and actions. Unfortunately, a lot of the problems between humans comes from the fact that way too many fail to make that distinction.
Wow! Those are a couple of heavy sentences for a Road Warrior motorcyclist. I think I hurt myself writing them! Let's get back to my comfort level and talk about riding. Particularly, about reaching out to help others achieve success as riders.
Our classes are comprised of many diverse individuals. On the first night of class I'll have a group of 24. We break the group down into two groups of twelve for the actual rest of the course. Which means I'll be closely working with, and responsible for, a group of twelve. In an Advanced Rider Training course it will be up to 18 individuals.
Out of even that smaller group, how many do you think are going to be different enough from me to cause me to be tempted to put labels on them? If you guessed most, if not all, you'd be right. Don't go getting all up in arms, here. It's just the way I sort my world. This guy might be "Joe Biker Dude". The kid might be "Ricky Racer". I've had "Poor Little Rich Kid" and even a "Rich Bitch".
For those of you with pure hearts, are you getting a bit steamed at me, yet? Look at the next picture and cool off a second. I'll elaborate in a bit. By the way, speaking of photos, these are simply random shots I've taken from classes. None of these folks are in any way, shape, or form, meant to illustrate any particular personality type or label. They are simply photos of students!
I've been a professional evaluator of human character for over four decades. From law enforcement to corporate management to motorcycle training. Add extra training in things as diverse as psychology, tactical evaluation, human motivation, and so on. Total up the number of employees, customers, and students and the figure will be in the thousands. What it boils down to is that my initial assessments of people are pretty darn accurate.
Knowing that, what are the chances that any of these personality traits are going to prevent me from giving a student ( we'll keep it to motorcycles, here ) my very best in order to help them succeed?
Zero to none. Period.
"I probably won't agree with your politics or a number of other things. There's a pretty good chance that we won't be "buds" after this class. In fact, we'll probably never see each other again. However, I will treat you with respect as a person. The same as I would like to be treated. Your success will always be my number one goal. I will use my understanding of your personality type to help me find the best approach for you in my coaching. Even if you have a "difficult" personality type, I will try hard to find something to like so we can relate. This is most likely your one and only shot at professional training and you deserve my very best. My promise is to deliver that."
That promise is kept. Then a very interesting thing happens.
"Ricky Racer" is really just Mark. A young guy trying to be cool and impress everybody as young guys are often known to do. Often the one he's most trying to impress is me, the instructor. What Mark's really looking for is approval. He's got great physical coordination and energy but it needs to be funneled in such a way that Mark will benefit from the class. I tell Mark that I'm impressed by some of his qualities. He's the kind of rider the rest of the class will look up to. I help him keep his cool image by encouraging Mark to be a great example for the rest of the class. Whenever the rest of the class needs to see what they should be doing, all they have to do is look at Mark. Hey, it works. 9 times out of 10 a "Mark" will be my buddy for the rest of the course. A little extra praise goes a long ways. Mark gets what his teenage psyche needs and learns in the process.
These are just a couple of examples. The names are made up but represent real people. You can fill in your own stories.
One summer in Roseburg I had a student that looked like the typical biker troublemaker stereotype. I'll never forget him. We'll call him Cody. ( yes, I remember his real name ) After talking with Cody off and on during the first day my assessment was confirmed. Cody basically had a good heart. He'd just been the kind that never excelled socially or academically. In self defense he acted like the tough guy and that had gotten him into trouble off and on. So the cycle continued.
At the end of the first riding day I could tell Cody was bored and a little frustrated at having to follow the rules involved with safety. Day 1 deals with the very basic skills of riding. The guy could ride much better than the other students in this class. Cody was there solely to get legal. I could also see that Cody needed the advanced skills we'd be working on the next day.
Anyway, Cody told me he probably wasn't coming back. This was too much to put up with, according to him. He'd continue to ride unendorsed. I looked at him for a minute. There was a lot I could say. Legalities, consequences, etc. That stuff wouldn't matter. I needed to reach him as a person. Fortunately, I'd made the effort to see the real him. At least as much as I could in the short time I'd known Cody. I shuffled through the responses and picked one. Thus I said,
"Man, Cody, you can't leave now. You're my best guy!"
It was amazing watching Cody's face. I could see the struggle taking place. That stern look was trying desperately to hang on but there was this big, goofy, Golden Retriever grin trying to take over. That grin never really gained hold, but I saw that it was there. Cody looked back at me and said,
"You know, nobody's ever told me that before."
Cody came back the next day. I genuinely liked him by then. Cody also passed the class with flying colors. He got what he needed which were the skills to keep him alive on the streets. I got to feel good about touching another human in a positive way.
Not every story will have a happy ending. Sometimes a jerk is a jerk is a jerk. There are some people I will never reach. The important thing is that I made the effort to see past any label to find the real person underneath. It sounds like this great and noble thing. Forget it. It's not that hard. I'm just a Road Warrior. Certainly nowhere near the likes of Gandhi or Mother Teresa. I'm not even that altruistic.
I am, however, smart enough to follow simple direction. Followed by some effort. Like this quote from Mother Teresa.
"If you judge people, you have no time to love them."
Again, when it comes to philosophical stuff I'm like a bull trying to do needlepoint. I just think the world would be a much better place if people spent more time trying to connect with each other as humans. Remove the labels and see what's really there. We're so much more alike than we are different.
For me, reaching out to help others achieve success is a great way to see past the labels and connect with people as individuals. Again, teaching motorcycle classes has been the perfect vehicle for my personal journey. I consider myself extremely blessed to have found this world. The amount that I have given has been returned to me several times over. In this season of giving I sincerely and humbly hope I've offered something worthwhile to reflect upon.
Miles and smiles,