Re­ally, would it kill you to wave?

Then there is the de­bate about the kind of wave. Is it a full-on, happy-to-see-you wave? Is it a ca­sual raise the fin­gers off the bar?

The News-Times - - OPINION - Rick Magee, a Bethel res­i­dent, is an English pro­fes­sor in Con­necti­cut. Con­tact him at [email protected] RICK MAGEE

My friend Me­gan and I used to ride our bikes to­gether very of­ten, and I would guess that we have put in at least 10,000 miles on the roads of Con­necti­cut, New York, and Mas­sachusetts. We have not had the chance to ride to­gether for a while though, as life has a way of in­ter­fer­ing with cy­cling, so I was happy to ride with her again this past week­end.

We spent a lot of time catch­ing up and talk­ing about past rides (“Hey — re­mem­ber the time I crashed here?”). It was a beau­ti­ful day made even bet­ter by the fact that it was a per­fect sunny May day in con­trast to the rain and over­cast we had been hav­ing. There were a lot of other rid­ers out on the roads, and we waved when we passed them go­ing the other way.

And here is where we hit the ugli­est schism in the cy­cling world: to wave or not to wave. The wave camp comes down on the side of two-wheeled sol­i­dar­ity and kin­ship while the anti-wave crowd says that the work­out is too im­por­tant to in­ter­rupt with such friv­o­lous con­cerns as wav­ing. Then there is the de­bate about the kind of wave. Is it a full-on, happy-to-see-you wave? Is it a ca­sual raise the fin­gers off the bar? Me­gan is an ex­tro­vert, and usu­ally adds a cheery “Good morn­ing!” with her wave. I don’t say much un­less I see dogs, and then I tell them that they are all very good.

We ran across many anti-wa­vers on our ride, and we tut­ted and shook our heads. Many years ago, we were on a ride and saw Floyd Lan­dis, the dis­graced pro cy­clist, go­ing the other di­rec­tion. We waved and he gave us the ca­sual fin­ger raise plus a nod. If Floyd can wave at the height of his dop­ing scan­dal, so can some week­end war­rior from West­port.

Now we come to the point of my ar­ti­cle where I see this lack of ci­vil­ity as a symp­tom of the de­cline of west­ern civ­i­liza­tion and prob­a­bly the fault of the in­ter­net or video games or birth con­trol. In truth, though, civ­i­liza­tion has al­ways been re­mark­ably short on the “civil” part of the word, and the only real dif­fer­ence to­day is that com­plain­ing about in­ci­vil­ity has been de­moc­ra­tized. If you were a serf, you couldn’t com­plain about a lack of ci­vil­ity, while kings could take of­fense at any tiny breach in pro­to­col. So, in a sense, com­plain­ing about an­ti­wa­vers is a pos­i­tive step to­ward free­dom.

The flip side of this free­dom is an equal de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion of boor­ish be­hav­ior. As any­one who works fac­ing the pub­lic knows, the anti-wa­vers are legion, and they def­i­nitely want you to know that they are ex­tremely im­por­tant and that they pay your salary. This is al­most al­ways a power move of some sort, and the most bel­liger­ent jerk will be­come a bootlick­ing syco­phant as soon as some­one with more power walks in.

My dad was an Army of­fi­cer who served two tours of duty in Viet­nam. He told me many times (“Yes, Dad, I know…”) that the most im­por­tant les­son he learned as a leader is that char­ac­ter shows in how you treat peo­ple un­der you. It’s easy to scream at some­one lower in rank when they have no way to re­tal­i­ate, so my dad al­ways in­sisted that I should treat these peo­ple with kind­ness and re­spect. On the other hand, when some­one with power treats you badly, you stand up. Al­ways punch up and never punch down.

It’s a good les­son, and one many in the pub­lic eye have yet to learn. In the mean­time, if I see you on the road, I’ll wave.

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