Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Removing the Labels.

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.

In the interests of truth in advertising, I'll be the first to admit that I often apply labels to others. I don't do it with evil intent, but it happens. A lot of the reason is my upbringing. Blame it on both nuture and nature. More on the nature part later.

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.


People can claim what they will but I think everyone labels others whether they will admit it or not. It seems to be a human need to sort our world. We need to "fit" things into our world. How often do you hear somebody describe another human as just a "person"? It might be as simple as using the labels "man", "woman", or "child". Sometimes we try to inwardly match a person's occupation or hobbies by their dress. We form preconceived opinions based on how a person presents themselves.

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!

Truth be told, there are going to be people who show certain personality traits. There are going to be spoiled rich kids who think they should be passed on through because Daddy has money and influence. There are going to be people who think they know it all. The only reason they show up to class is because they need it to get an endorsement. There are pampered women who expect to be specially catered to. We all know guys whose only concern is appearing macho and cool.

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 make this unspoken promise to a student.

"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.

Labels are removed. Individuals emerge in their place. This is no longer "Joe Biker Dude". Now he's Rory, the guy who is kind of insecure and needs to put on a fierce exterior for protection. Once you see past that exterior, Rory's really a caring kind of guy.

"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,

Dan

21 comments:

Charlie6 said...

Irondad (DAN)

A rather thoughtful and involved posting. I liked it.

What you talked about, I had explained to me once in college. We make snap judgements of people we met or see based on the first impressions you mention.

Its all part of the evolutionary process the species has experienced in surviving encounters. Is the new creature or person a threat? Yes or No? Once that little bit is cleared up, we move onto putting people into categories as you mention and treat them based on those parameters, again as you mention.

The parameters however, are trained into us by our parents and family as we grow up. Later on, peer and cultural influences come into play but the family training runs deep.

We all see the world as a result of the perspective imprinted into us through all these factors. Being able to take this perspective, set it aside for a bit and use the other guy's perspective on an issue is really one of the more difficult things I've had to learn, and I still suck at it most of the time.

Mankind is still tribal in the deeper corners of our brains. It's a survival thing from the beginnings of the species. I don't think we'd survive without that particular gene in our DNA. Labels, as you mention, are part of the mechanisms involved.

It's getting past that initial label, as you nicely illustrate, that one must make an effort to do. Of course, sometimes that initial impression you get, is actually what that person is.....again, its the senses tuned by nature, evolution, your upbringing and training. Sometimes, that dirtbag looking individual really is a dirtbag.

Thanks for a thought-provoking posting.

dom

Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

682202 said...

Irondad,

Great post. Labels, I'm Guilty. I've seen all those you mentioned plus a few, then I pushed them into a MRI scanner. I have also been labeled many times by my patients, because of bad experiences they had at some other MRI joint (how many people do you hear say they love getting an MRI). But because I too have a unspoken code, rule, promise, etc. so those labels will generally be meaningless in the end. I start with the "treat them the way you would like to be treated" and go one step further, treat them the way you would want your family (mother, grandmother) treated. 9 times out of 10 it works.

On the other hand I probably have as many labels for my self, I guess that's the same as labeling others, just another way to make other people different from yourself.

I commend you for taking up the topic, Labels are a complicated and it takes deep thought to write about them in a constructive way.

Thanks for sharing.

Shannon T Baker said...

Very thoughtful and insightful. Once again I learn a little something from one of your posts. Thank you

-Buddha

Backroads Buddha

P.S. Love the picture of the kiddo in the helmet! Reminds me of one I have of my son when he was just a bit older. I need to dig that out...

RichardM said...

Great post on labels. Occasionally it's good to have some time to sit back and reflect on things. Plane trips across the country are good for that. I occasionally tend to label people but that is usually just until I get to know them a bit better. The label is sort of a handle that my simple mind needs to sort people by when there is a lack of information.

Richard

Anonymous said...

Wow, pretty good stuff for a guy that rides a motorcycle! (That's a label joke.) Seriously, as an MSF instructor, I'll take your comments under consideration as I teach others.

bobskoot said...

Irondad:

I agree with your gist of labelling, but we have no choice, sometimes when meeting people for the first time. I like to think that I have a good grasp evaluating people as this is what I have to do on a daily basis.

In your case you came with preconceived notions like a Warrior with a licence plate to match, so you are a Warrior until we get to know you better and now we find that sentimental soft spot. You are a softie at heart, even though the ground trembles with your every step

bob
Wet Coast Scootin

Circle Blue said...

I agree completely with these sentences: "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."

People are like unexplored wilderness. We may have a rough map (what others have told us), but often we have to make the map as we go, all the while knowing every time we return to this wilderness our maps may need revising.

Great post. Thank you.
~Keith

Bryce said...

Grandchild in motorcycle helmet.
I like that!

david said...

Irondad a heartwarming post. Curious how most have an easily applicable label, which doesn't suit them once they know them?

Most often, as you allude, all you have to do is take the time to listen. And when you answer with respect, and kindness, it's like a key that opens a door.

Give us a prayer this side if you would? got the Toyrun tomorrow. Been planning for months. Unfortunately, we have to start with the premise that all bikers are idiots, and work from there. Not charitable, but necessary when planning. Hope for the best, plan for the worst, i guess.

Toys for underpriviledged kids. Karmic payback, instantly. You see people pouring out their love for these kids ... you see the kids get presents from santa ... it's all worth it. I'll post pics ;-)

peace and love

Chuck Pefley said...

What a wonderful and thoughtful reminder to all of us. Thanks for providing this well written post!

Allen Madding said...

Very thought provoking there. Sometimes I think I am a bull trying to do needlepoint as well, but I have been making a concerted effort to connect with the people around me where they are. Some days I do well with it, other days "needlepoint".

Thanks for keeping me thinking.

-Peace

Orin said...

Great post. And the new theme looks nice, too.

If you're serious about writing a book, I would suggest a manual on how to be an effective motorcycle instructor, using your experiences to illustrate various points. It would be entertaining, and informative. And it might help standardize motorcycle training, which based on mine and the experiences of friends and acquaintances seems to be all over the map.

__Orin
Scootin' Old Skool

irondad said...

Dom,

I appreciate your reference to the tribal roots. I've always thought we can't help but try to put things and people into slots. Your comment reinforces that.

Thank you for your very considered and thoughtful comment!

Gordon,

Never connected you with MRI. Maniac Riders Incorporated?

Interesting how you mentioned putting labels on ourselves. Those are as powerful or more in how we perceive our world as labels we put on others. I hadn't really thought of them when I did this post.

Who would have thought we would all be so intelligent on top of being great riders?

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Buddha,

You honor my blog!

Richard,

If anyone knows about reflecting during airplane travel it would be you! Thank you for commenting.

To my anonymous fellow instructor,

Not only are we riders, but instructors. The labels get even tighter! I think labels can be especially destructive for those of us who teach. That was the thrust of my reflections. Motorcycle students deserve our unprejudiced best since the stakes are so high.

Keep the faith and thanks for coming by!

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Bobskoot,

As much as I hate to admit, you and I have similar backgrounds in providing security of differing sorts! I can appreciate what you are saying. Quickly applying labels ( or getting impressions ) becomes vital.

As to being a softie, well, I prefer to say I'm strong enough to be gentle!

Warmest regards,

Dan

irondad said...

Circle Blue ( Keith )

I loved your comment. You put it so much more succintly than I did. My post could have been a lot shorter!

Seriously, a very astute comment. Thank you so much!

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Bryce,

Spur of the moment ideas can sometimes turn out ok!

David,

By now the toy run in S. Africa is over. However, I got the comment earlier and put the prayer in! Have to go check your blog. I'm waaaay behind.

Thanks for sharing. You are always appreciated here.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Chuck,

Reading your comment of kind words brightened my entire week! The bad news is that it took me a thousand words while your photos do it by themselves!

Allen,

I'm just super glad to not be the only bull doing needlepoint!! We can mess it up together.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Orin,

Thank you for the great idea! I've always fancied doing something like the James Herriot books but from a motorcycle instructor viewpoint.

Sorry about the confusion in training. In Oregon we work hard to be consistent throughout the state.

Take care,

Dan

Orin said...

Irondad, I've noticed just about any activity you can name is more cohesive and better-organized in Oregon than in Washington, where motorcycle training is outsourced to a number of local providers.

__Orin
Scootin' Old Skool

Krysta in MKE said...

So you're finally writing not one book, but two? Yippee! I keep tellin' ya I'll help with the project.