Article By: Pat Jansen
Originally Published In The April 2017 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
We are in contentious times. The trend is to divide people up into their smallest possible groups based on a thought process or characteristic and guard that with your life. There is the demand by some that everyone walk on eggshells while others go out of their way to offend. The bridge between individual freedom and community seems to have been burnt. Having been in the motorcycle community for some 30 odd years (I started young, don’t be a smartass) I have treasured both of those things. My sense of freedom that is expressed through the lifestyle of motorcycling has unlocked power in my life. It has given me a sense of endurance, both physical and mental. It has allowed me to experience sights and sounds across this entire country that most will never know. Life has not been, for me, experienced through pieces of glass in climate controlled comfort. Motorcycling has allowed me to take in the world with all of my senses. As a friend of mine, John Heckman RIP, once said to me, “You are able to have a huge appetite for everything.” That is the gift of riding and freedom. But equally important is the community. And that has given me cause to pause in recent years.
I fear our community, the motorcycle community, is disintegrating. There have always been “factions” of motorcycle enthusiasts. Harley guys, Goldwing folks, sport bike girls, racers, vintage nuts but still there was some commonality. Not everyone throws the “hello there” sign to everyone else. But you could still W find a sense of community when you sat at the bar and talked about the bikes and the rides. While there were groups with different interests, we all came together and celebrated together this freedom we had experienced individually. Today we have events that cater specifically to certain crowds. There are black bike weeks, women only rides, invitation only events for the hoity toity and still other events that while not specifically exclusive give the vibe of being very uninviting to newcomers, even if they’ve been in the scene a long time. Our community is becoming fractionalized by breaking itself down into the smallest possible social units. The advent of social media hasn’t helped with this shift. While allowing us to “connect” with other people who ride, those connections aren’t real. They aren’t building community. So many of our “community” members are attached to us through this venue that real relationships are lost. In the past our community’s leaders rose up from their willingness to be there, night or day, for the men and women who rode.
When they saw another guy or gal alongside the road in trouble they would come to their aid. They were the men and women that worked hard of what they had and when someone was down shared it discreetly and without need for recognition. The leaders used to be the first to stick up for another rider in a fight, to take care of their kids when there was sickness and would take folks in and help them get back on their feet. This community used to be solid. And while it was rough around the edges, loud and hard living, it was real. Today’s “leaders” are the Instafamous. They are the ones that haven’t ever taken a crap without recording it for all to see. They are the ones that find “community” as a way to be known and drop the names of their most important followers. They are an infectious lot that cause division and cancer in the real community. They strive to create elite little groups that are exclusive in their style, thought and actions. They don’t contribute to the well being of others. They are the last to invite new people into their associations. They celebrate themselves. Yes, they have found individual freedom but their freedom is a façade because it exists outside of community. What is the difference? The difference is an innate understanding of how to do life together. Dietrich Bonheoffer was a Lutheran minister hanged in a Nazi concentration camp for his resistance to Adolf Hitler. He was smuggled out of Germany to the safety of the United States but the burden he carried for the people of Germany was so great he returned. I don’t know if he rode motorcycles or not, but he sure knew something about community. He found himself in an arena that was contentious too. People had different political views, different understandings of how to deal with race relations, differences about how best to engage the world around them. And in the midst of that he articulated those innate things that a community needs to survive and thrive in the midst of chaos. Basically, he said Shut up, Listen, Lend a hand, and then if you must Speak. When we are at our best we are not posting on social media. No, we are holding our tongue. Why? Because opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one, they all stink and no one needs to see it. So, shut up already. Listen. Really tune in and try to hear what others are saying.
Another old saying, “There is a reason God gave us one mouth and two ears.” In the process of listening you might learn something or more importantly find out that someone has a need. Bike is down for another season because of that one elusive repair, unemployment or underemployment has taken its toll on a good family, anger over missed opportunities is eating away at hope, death has taken its toll after a long battle with cancer, adult children aren’t succeeding and could use some direction, the car has become unreliable making getting to work difficult, drugs and alcohol are eroding the mind of person once full of life and potential. When we put down our drum and stop beating it we’re able to hear the needs of others. And community begins to grow. We take an accounting of what we have and realize that there isn’t much but there is time, a job connection, a favor to be called in for someone, a part laying on a shelf or perhaps the greatest gift of all a few minutes to just sit, have a drink and be present with a stranger. And that, is how community happens. That is how my motorcycle community used to happen. That is what will make new people want to be a part of our community and allow all of us to continue to know what real individual freedom looks like. Because until you are free to be there for somebody else you aren’t really free at all. Then, if you must, speak to people. I expect the content of your conversation will be vastly different.