Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The joy of being wrong



       Do you ever wonder why uninformed people cling to ignorance?
       You can be holding proof that they're wrong under their nose, neatly laid out in charts and graphs and documentary photographs, and they wave it off. They don't want to know. They don't want to be educated. They don't care they're wrong. They're fine as they are.
       The relevant phrase is "cognitive dissonance," and the quick definition is, when you align your personality, your essence, your being, with a certain worldview, then you need to maintain that worldview. So you accept the facts that endorse it. And reject those that don't.  The fact that you're "wrong," in some specific or cosmic sense, does not matter.
      A lot of people are like that, but it isn't the only approach to life. When you don't define your personality by a particular belief, you are free to revise your outlook as facts warrant, and I had a dramatic example of that last month. 
    Governor Bruce Rauner celebrated Motorcycle Awareness Month by tweeting a photograph of himself astride one of his bikes, along with a link to the Illinois Department of Transportation's safety tips for motorcyclists page which, cravenly, did not whisper the suggestion that riders wear a helmet. I couldn't resist the chance to blow a few well-earned raspberries in the direction of Gov. Moribund, and did so
    But a number of readers wrote in with this observation: You've never even ridden a motorcycle, so shut up.
    At one level, that is an easy criticism to dismiss. It's the same logic used to silence critics of Chicago who do not themselves live in the boundaries of the city, and I was able to ignore that long enough to write a book about the place, albeit one focusing on outsiders such as myself. 
    Demanding that only members of a certain group are allowed to critique it is easily refuted: if that were the case, only fish could write about marine biology.
     However. At another level, they did have a point. I haven't ridden on a motorcycle, and it isn't as if they're unaccessible, or if riding one is on the same level of complexity as moving to Chicago.  I could learn;  the enormous Chicago Harley Davidson is 10 minutes down the street from where I live. 
    So I went there, to see about classes, and was given a tour by a very proud general manager, Steve Trujillo, who stressed that if you think of bikers like the guys in "The Wild Ones," as bearded and heavily tattooed outlaws, well, that isn't everybody. They also have doughy middle aged guys like me. 
    The place is very clean. With lots of beautiful motorcycles dripping in chrome. I didn't sign up, yet. Let's get these boys rested and out into the world again. And to be honest, 20 hours of motorcycle instruction over four days—well, that is a lot. 
     Still, while I was there, I couldn't help confront this wall of helmets and grab an extra-large and try it on. Just to see if it fit my big head.
     And here I laughed, out loud. OOO, this is uncomfortable, thought I. Get this thing off me.
    The cold drop of ignorance hitting the hot pan of experience. 
     Yes, it was a full-face helmet—which you need if you don't want your chin to be scraped off on a stretch of asphalt somewhere. I imagine I'd go for a less-enclosing model and hope for the best.
     I wouldn't yank that think off quicker had it been on fire. Laughing all the while, deep and  long and sincere. See, this is what all those people too afraid of challenging their beliefs to take in new information miss: the joy of saying, "Hey, I was wrong! I didn't know what I was talking about." That doesn't diminish you. It expands you. Being wrong, when warranted, takes confidence. Takes the knowledge that shifting an opinion doesn't undercut your personality; it enhances it.
    Of course any one input is not the final word. If I go ass-over-tea kettle someday I might come to appreciate the more complete protection of a full-face helmet. But for the moment, standing in front of those helmets at Chicago Harley-Davidson, I laughed and laughed, and had to share it with you. 
    
    
    

20 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. After a short while, the brain bucket becomes an automatic, invisible part of the experience, like seat belts in your car. You'll even feel uncomfortable without it.

    (Remember your parents protesting mandatory seat-belt use? "I hate those things. They're so confining!" and my favorite, "I'd rather be thrown clear.")

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    1. Echoing this -- I've had to wear full-face helmets for go-karting, of all things. After a couple of minutes, you forget you're wearing the helmet.

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  3. I have to say, I'm not sure of the point of this post. So helmets are uncomfortable. That doesn't, or shouldn't, make them any less necessary.

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  4. Not only are motorcycle helmets uncomfortable, they also look silly, especially if worn by doughy middle-aged guys, but I agree with the Scribe that they are necessary nonetheless. And as someone who never wore a seatbelt until such was mandated by law, I doubt we'll see wide spread use of helmets until they're legally mandatory.

    john

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    1. Back in the 70's there were cars that wouldn't start unless your seatbelt was fastened. Under the hood was an override button that only mechanics knew about. We used to bypass the switch on our own vehicles.

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  5. To be even more honest, twenty hours of motorcycle instruction over four days—well, that ain't much. How much time is a life worth? Twenty hours are less than what's needed to learn to safely drive a car. It's twice as long as the time the state of Ohio required, and they charged a fee for the class.

    Those twenty hours are probably free if you buy a Harley from that dealership, right? They're worth every second, because safe riding is no accident, as the old saying goes. A lot of those killed and injured in motorcycle accidents are newbies. Knowledge and mastery of basic riding skills might prevent many of those "ass-over-teakettle" situations caused by ignorance, negligence, and overconfidence, all of which can be just as fatal as lack of a helmet...maybe more.

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  6. You've had the helmet experience, now try 70 MPH on the motorcycle without one. Seeing a dented Honda hatchback alongside a crumpled burning chopper, with the rider lying motionless 100 feet away will make you forget the weight of that helmet. If it doesn't put you off the motorcycle idea completely. Thank you Mister Klein for the advice back in '60, I did not go the way of your friends.

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  7. I was driving on I94 one lovely Saturday when traffic suddenly came to a halt. I was in the right lane and pulled onto the shoulder, expecting a fender-bender of some kind and giving me an escape route. What was there was a man - maybe 35-ish - not wearing a helmet laying in a large rapidly-growing pool of blood, his motorcycle about 15-20 ft. away. However uncomfortable a helmet may be, I'm pretty sure it feels better than that guy did that day...although I'm pretty sure he didn't feel anything at that point. There's a reason motorcyle riders without helmets are called organ donors.

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  8. Came upon the remains of an unfortunate rider who launched over the hood of a car that pulled from a driveway in front of him about 50 yrs. ago. Couldn’t tell if he’d been wearing a helmet or not. Did not matter, if you know what I mean. Never ever gave a thought to riding one again!

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  9. 1) All motorcycle riders are called Organ Donors
    2) I always wear a helmet when I ride, but I will admit that I don’t expect it to work at any real speed. After 55 or so I’m guessing the force of your organs impacting your insides (I.e. the third impact) would be enough to dispatch you from this mortal coil.

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  10. I guess it's time for someone to comment on the real reason this column was written. I think it's great when Neil changes his position on something or just flat out admits that he was wrong. That's something I struggled with when I was younger and knew everything. I'm much older now, and wise to the fact that thinking I'm right all the time is a tremendous burden. It really puts a guy in a defensive stance. Who needs it? You screwed up? Cop to it. Changed your mind about something? Tell anyone who will listen. It's very freeing.

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    1. I think some of us were gently suggesting he might be wrong about being wrong in this case! He did leave open that possibility, though.

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    2. Though your point still eloquently stands!

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    3. It's still a column about an opinion evolving due to a changed perspective. Whether or not anyone agrees with him about helmets is secondary.

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  11. Four full days wouldn't hurt, though if you want to know what riding a motorcycle is like, you can get the general idea with a smaller bike along a country road, and you shouldn't need any more than fifteen minutes of instruction, depending on the bike. Nobody I know who can ride a motorcycle got started with even that much.

    Riding a motorcycle is exhilarating. Dangerous, of course, though probably less so in countries with fewer cars that don't go as fast as they do here.

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    1. Sounds like good advice, Eric, but I do not trust advice from any motorcycle rider because he just might be a guy I saw one night ten years ago. I was traveling south on 53/290, just past Woodfield Mall, doing about 60/65 MPH. On my left I see a crotch rocket, cafe racer or whatever, its driver looking backwards into a car two lanes over from me that he had just passed. He held his speed along side me for several seconds staring into that vehicle, then turned his head back straight ahead and cranked on his throttle. He shot ahead into a wheelie that he maintained till he was several hundred feet ahead and then weaved his way through the moderate traffic and out of sight in seconds. One bobble and he would have been toast. A reminder of the three great decisions I made in my life, no cigarettes, stop drinking, and don't buy that motorcycle at the Navy Exchange in Japan as my friends urged. BTW, one of them now has an extra bend in one arm between his wrist and elbow.

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  12. You could not pay me enough to ride one of those donorcycles.

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  13. 33000 people die per year in car crashes. None of them are wearing helmuts. Many are children .3 million people are injured . 4000 people die from motorcycle crashes many of whom are wearing helmuts .many fatal motorcycle crashes invole cars and trucks .Often the occupants of which are uninjured. Far more important than motorcyclists wearing helmuts is car drivers paying attention to their presence and not being distracted. Blame the victim? I think not. Blame the irresponsible drivers.

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