Monday, November 26, 2018

I'd Rather It Not Happen, But It Does

The city of Seattle is experimenting with city bikes. Over the course of the last year or so, our sidewalks have become home to hundreds of brightly painted bicycles that one can rent using an app on your smart phone. Theoretically, you can find them anywhere and leave them wherever you happen to be when you're finished. These bikes are owned by for-profit companies, but I first learned of the concept when my wife and I lived in Europe. The way I heard the story is that the city of Amsterdam, decades ago, interested in curtailing automobile traffic within the city, flooded the streets with simple, one-speed bicycles, free for use by anyone. Within weeks, they were all destroyed or stolen. They then flooded the streets with another wave of bikes, which suffered a similar fate. They persevered, however, continuing to introduce new bikes until, over time, the novelty wore off and their value was reduced to the point that they were no longer attractive to vandals and thieves.

I don't know if the bikes in Seattle are being stolen, but they certainly have been vandalized. Everywhere I go, I'm stepping around bikes that have been purposely knocked over. Sometimes I find them with their fenders torn off or their handle bars askew. Of course, some of this could be accidental, but most of it is pure vandalism and my prejudice is that it is mostly the work of young men.

Every now and then, a kid, almost always a boy, will race about the playground upending things: chairs, ladders, buckets, wagons, you name it. There can be any number of reasons for the behavior, including being both over and under stimulated. Sometimes it's done more as a prank, as cheekiness, as a way to make one another laugh. Sometimes there seems to be actual anger or even malice in their actions. The other day, a boy was pretending to be a Transformer named Bumblebee who, apparently, knocks lots of things over as he moves about the world. More often than not, however, I will never have a clue about the reasons because I don't see it happen. I'm left to speculate as I follow their trail of destruction setting things to rights, just as I often do with the bicycles upended on the sidewalk.

Of course, vandalism committed by adults is different than the acts we see on playgrounds, if only because "they ought to know better," but the urge seems similar, especially when it comes to relatively harmless activities like knocking over a bike. For some children, some of the time, the urge to "destroy" is at least as strong as the urge to create, and there are times when these two competitive urges seem to be one and the same.

I'm sometimes tempted to follow these kids around the place, scolding them in an effort to "teach" them about respecting property, and I do when it's happening indoors, but when we're outside, I usually ignore it unless someone is in physical danger. I don't exactly know why, but that seems like the right thing to do. I've traveled enough to know that vandalism is not confined to US cities. There is graffiti everywhere. There are broken windows everywhere. I reckon it's an urge that doesn't disappear entirely with age and experience, and we know what happens with repressed urges. I'd rather it not happen, but it does.

I speculate that this urge emerges from human evolution, that seemingly purposeless destruction is somehow connected to our drive to explore, to experiment, and to express. I sometimes wonder if it is, at least in part, a reaction to the fundamental irrationality of personal property, which is a relatively new human invention when it comes to the full span of our existence as a species, a concept that is not found anywhere else in the animal kingdom. Whatever the case, my hope is that by tolerating it at a certain level, I'm giving children the opportunity to examine this urge in a safe and loving environment. I'd rather it not happen, but it does, and anything that is human must be included in our education.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

No comments: