September 2018: Utilitarianism
Hey green team,
During a leisurely morning ride that circled “Concord*” via “the Minute Man trail*,” our teammate “Brian*” and I had an experience that reminded me once again of the overlap between Wheelworks life and our professional lives. Typically, when I join or convene a new team, one of our foremost exercises is to engage in norm-setting. On the surface, this elicits general responses: listen while others are talking, show up on time, don’t be late. Go a little deeper, and we start tugging at personal expectations: speak your truth, assume good intentions, maintain a safe space, practice bravery. One of the norms that tends to emerge part-way through is perhaps the most basic: act with respect.
While we never officially penned Wheelworks team norms, I took a stab at what I imagine they might include:
Perhaps not all 8 are in play during every run, cycling loop, or swim, but for the most part: generally applicable.
Ok, back to the Minute Man. As “Brian*” and I were spinning along, we came to a segment almost every Wheelworker has experienced: a cluster. Three people walking shoulder-to-shoulder in front of us; parallel, a couple pushing a baby carriage, two young kids running slightly ahead. Up ahead, a busy intersection. In between, more pedestrians.
As we approached said cluster, “Brian” and I recalled both our previous rides and inadvertently, the norms above. Pop quiz: what did we do?
If you answered (c), you are correct. [If you answered (a) or (b), OMG why do you hate us?!]
In this instance, the right thing to do was to slow down. Could we have sped up and/or shimmied between the pedestrians? Yes. Would it have freaked them out, and potentially endangered the kids? Also yes. It’s the concept of utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number. We applied that here; the only people who would have benefitted from us speeding up was...well, us.
Here’s Part 2 of the story. As we feathered our breaks, we noticed the pedestrians to our left turning around, reacting, and hurrying out of the way (which would have been the same reaction we caused if we sped up). We craned our necks to see what was coming our way, and what I saw was more disappointing than discovering the Rx bar I brought had expired: a group of cyclists, from a fellow tri team I will not name, chose option (b)--and married it with option (a). A handful of riders came whizzing down the middle, leaving scared walkers in their wake. “Brian” and I slowed further, signaling to those around us we would not do the same.
Granted, our teams our different. We know that, and the riders who passed us know that. But the folks walking around us did not know that. Being a triathlete is a privilege--one that comes with the requirement to respect those inside our athlete community, as well as those outside of it. I was proud to be a WWMS member this morning; my hope is that the pedestrians remember the green top more favorably than the other color. It’s a good reminder about why we chose the team we did, and the norms we subscribe to by donning the Wheelworks name.
Be safe, ride well, and we’ll see you on the trail!
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