Whilst there is some debate among scientists as to whether free will really exists, there is little doubt that we are a contrary species.
Tell someone not to do something and there is a pretty good chance that they’ll do it.
We are not a number, etc
The idea that smoking is bad for you is not a particularly new concept, but people still do it. Drinking in moderation is also pretty sound advice too, but people still drink themselves into a stupor when the weekend rolls around. People will also sit for an hour in traffic to do a five mile journey morning and evening, despite it being a spectacular waste of time and energy.
If we know what the right way is, why do we rally against it and head in completely the wrong direction? Because we can.
There’s a lot of things in this life beyond our control. The concept of free will means that a lot of things involving other people are beyond our control —whether we are talking about going for a job interview, or whether or not someone collides with you in the street because they were too busy looking at their phone. We’re also unable to control the weather, gravity or celestial objects.
The scientists cautioned that the illusion of choice might only apply to choices that are made quickly and without too much thought. But it might also be “pervasive and ubiquitous — governing all aspects of our behaviour, from our most minute to our most important decisions”.
Whether we have free will or not, the feeling of not being in control can be unsettling. People will make those decisions that are within their gift, whether or not it is the right thing to do. Tell someone living hand-to-mouth, feeling as though they have no way to improve their situation, that they shouldn’t smoke. Perhaps tell someone who has just spent £50,000 on a new BMW that they shouldn’t drive it to work, or a mile to the nearest shops. Sadly, the outcome is inevitable.
This is still about cycling, right?
It would be lovely if it was as simple as saying “leave your car at home, infidel!” Unfortunately, telling people what to do doesn’t work. Whenever I am told to do anything my immediate response is to go completely the other way. In a culture where your peers may spend their weekends drinking and smoking it won’t surprising you to learn that being a non-drinking, non-smoking cycling bore takes quite a bit of effort. I’m actually slightly unusual in that I follow the advice, probably because not following it has become normal.
It is far better to seed an idea in someone’s mind and make them think them think it was their idea all along. Whilst this will sound familiar to anyone who has watched Inception, it is a concept that works beyond the silver screen.
For us this means we need to stop telling people to get out of their cars; to get on their bikes or public transport. Instead we just need to ride our bikes and make it look awesome, which it is.
Sooner or later people will be ready to join in the fun and they’ll no doubt have questions. We all need to be there ready and willing to provide the answers.