There is an intersection about a mile from my home where, when coming from the south, I am particularly aware of the need to remain visible and present myself confidently. As I approach it, I watch all sides and move to the center of my lane. By moving away from the white line towards the middle of my lane, I position myself in the best place to be seen by traffic, particularly those who might turn left in front of me.
Kansas bicycle laws state that cyclists should ride as close to the right side of the roadway as safe and practicable, and I definitely do, but there are times when it is important to be seen and to set expectations for motorists’ behavior. Like so many lessons I have learned on the bike (and will share in my forthcoming book), this one has high applicability to life off the bike, as well.
In addition to being seen at an intersection, there are other situations that call for taking my lane. A couple weeks ago, I was headed south on a quiet, but narrow, two-lane road, when I saw two cyclists on low recumbents heading north. Behind them, a car was approaching on a gentle hill. I moved to the center of my lane, in order both to be seen and to discourage the car from passing between us, squeezing all of us toward the edges of the road. The cyclists and I waved at each other as we passed. As soon as we did, I moved back to the right edge of my lane, smiled and waved at the motorist. In my mirror, I watched the vehicle pass the recumbent bikes safely, and we all went about our day. The driver was delayed for no more than 10 seconds. As I continued pedaling south, I reflected on the brief encounter.
I realized that I felt powerful—in a good way. I had assessed the situation, identified a potential danger for myself and others, found the courage to take a position and acted confidently (and with trust in the driver). The small act of taking my lane made things safer for me and allowed me to advocate for the safety of two oncoming cyclists. Those recumbents, just inches off the ground, are probably more maneuverable than I think (I’ve never tried one.), but I felt like I was in the better position to make a strong move and protect us all.
One of my daily mantras during meditation is, “I am rooted in my power. I stand in it and own it.” As I have gotten older, especially in the last couple years, I have become better at living this mantra. The first step for any of us in doing this is recognizing our power.
I am not perfect in my practice of standing in my power and owning it, but I have gotten so much better at recognizing that I have some power and that I have a right to assert it in situations where I need to set boundaries for myself or others who don’t have, or haven’t found, their voices.
In recent years, I have realized that I lived much of my life fairly passively, deferring to others and feeling like I didn’t have a right to speak up and be heard or to stand up and be seen. I could do it for a cause or a principle—like becoming vegetarian at age 12 and becoming vegan in 2008. I recognized that animals didn’t have a voice or choice, so I stopped eating them in 1982. Then, I stopped eating or using their products in 2008, after I found the courage to learn more about the egg and dairy industries. For many years as a vegetarian, while I didn’t apologize for my principles, I would say, “I recognize that I am the weird one.” As I type that, it actually sounds a lot like an apology. Now, I may still be the weird one, but I own it, and it is not an apology.
I’ve advocated comfortably for others in different contexts, too—for victims of sexual assault, for people living with HIV and AIDS, for my son, for my students—but it has only been in recent years that I have really felt okay about advocating for myself.
Cycling has helped me to realize that there are absolutely times when we need to take our lane to make ourselves more visible or to be heard.
What has taken longer is cultivating the courage to do it, on the bike or off.
When I pull into the center of my lane to make sure I am seen by motorists or to promote proper passing by a car, I am setting a boundary of sorts. I am teaching the motorists how to behave around me. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will respond the way I intend. Most will, but a few may get enraged by what they perceive as my audacity (or sometimes by my very existence). Most, even if irritated, will drive the way they should, to avoid hitting or otherwise endangering me.
Taking a strong position in any setting to be seen or heard and to help other people understand how they should treat us requires courage and comes with risks. But, if we meekly remain against the white line on the bike or in the rest of life when we really need to take a bolder stance, our expectations may be misinterpreted. As Brene Brown has warned, this is likely to lead to resentment. We expect others to treat us a certain way, and they don’t. We haven’t asserted ourselves to instruct them how to treat us, but we resent them for not meeting our unstated expectations.
“What you permit, you promote. What you allow, you encourage. What you condone, you own.” –Unknown
We have both the right and the responsibility to set boundaries, but this doesn’t excuse blatant bad behavior—by drivers, by the humans in our daily lives or by society and institutions. As I was recently writing a book chapter about taking my lane, I thought of two 21st-century social movements: #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. In both of these movements, members of communities—people who have experienced sexual victimization and African American people—are positioning themselves to be seen and heard and are instructing society in how to treat them. This is a version of taking their lane.
Finding the courage and recognizing our right to take our lane can be a gradual process. I think we often have to live our way into it. For me it has come with the recognition that life is moving ever more quickly, and time is short. With that realization, I have less and less patience and, quite literally, less and less time to shrink into the white line and risk not being noticed. On the bike, it is my life and safety. Off the bike, it is my quality of life and my ability to make the contribution I want to make in the world.
Because time is short.
So, I will keep digging deep to find the courage to take my lane, and I encourage you to take your lane. Position yourself to be seen and heard. Share your message with the world. Speak your truth.
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Comment below to share your experiences with taking your lane. How have you found the courage to do this? Did you live your way into it, like I have, or have you always known how to do it? How has it served you?
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