The young cyclist sped round the corner on the pavement (sidewalk) and nearly hit me. I was startled and then angry and after I had collected myself called after him that he was crazy! I watched indignantly as he carried on without so much as a glance back in my direction. My reactive voices started up as I walked on towards the town centre: “So irresponsible, inconsiderate and rude! He could have at least apologised. Typical of young people these days!”
By the time I had walked to the next major intersection I had calmed down a bit and started to focus on my to-buy list. I waited for the little green man to indicate that I could cross the road safely. I was thinking about which order I should visit the various shops when who should pull up beside me but the same cyclist. He was listening to his i-pod and seemed oblivious to me. I was incensed!
My reactive voices started up again and before I knew what was happening I stepped towards him and tapped him authoritatively on the shoulder. He looked surprised and wary. I launched in. What did he think he was doing riding so dangerously? He had nearly hit me just now. Cyclists should ride their bikes on the road or on cycle paths, not on the pavement which was intended for pedestrians like me.
He reluctantly took an earphone from one ear. “What’s your problem?” he scowled. I repeated that he had ridden his bike dangerously and had nearly hit me. “No, I saw you and avoided you. Anyway, I can ride wherever I want.” “Have you ever read the Highway Code?” I spluttered. “You can’t do just as you please. The rules apply to bicycles just as much as to anyone else.”
It was water off a duck’s back. He gave me a look of studied indifference. The green man showed and he raced off, this time looking over his shoulder to utter, “Piss off!” I was left feeling outraged and impotent.
I was unable to let go of my judgements about the young cyclist. I felt destabilised and in no mood to do my shopping now. I needed to sit down and get a handle on my reactive voices, so I headed for a favourite coffee shop.
Sitting down with a comforting cup of cappuccino I started to reflect on what had happened and my reactions. What did my visceral judgements tell me about my Primary Selves? Startled and shocked by nearly being knocked over, I could now see that several selves had jumped into offensive mode to protect my vulnerability: my Responsible Self, my Rule Follower, and my Considerate Self. I developed them all in my youth under the influence of my parents who were kind, responsible, law abiding citizens. They were the selves that were judging this young guy so harshly. Additionally, there was the self that has developed since I turned 50 which judges “young people these days!”
I smiled as I contemplated the latter and how I had hated it when my father used to say the same about people of my generation. I realised that my father was alive and well and living inside me! But also alive in me were the energies represented by the young cyclist. As I separated from my Primary Selves I could feel their discomfort as I started to look at the Disowned Selves the cyclist represented: Rebel, Rule Breaker, and my Carefree and Confident Selves.
I suddenly remembered my father saying to me in his later, more mellow years that he was worried that I hadn’t been rebellious enough as a teenager. In retrospect, he thought it was not healthy to be such a good boy all the time. Well, of course, I had secretly rebelled and broken the rules. I had ridden my bike all over London in dangerous, heavy traffic when my mother’s rule was that I was supposed to stay only in the safe streets close to my suburban home. I had also ridden on the pavement and in my fantasies I had bad mouthed anyone who got in my way or criticised my behaviour!
As I acknowledged this, I felt my judgements about the cyclist ebb away to be replaced by a smile of recognition. To complete the process I decided to reframe my judgements and ask what gifts a small dose of the cyclist’s energies could bring me this afternoon. Hmm…. let me see…. yes, greater self-assurance, the confidence to break the rules sometimes, and a sense of fun.
I finished my cappuccino and left the café to get on with my shopping. As I went from shop to shop I realised that I felt calmer and more expanded. I had a spring in my step that wasn’t there before. And I noticed the young sales assistants seemed to respond to me with a smile, a lightness, and (was it my imagination?) a wink of recognition!