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Jewish World Review July 17, 2001 / 26 Tamuz, 5761

Bob Greene

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While we're trying to change the world ... -- WE claim to want to change the world, but before we attempt anything quite that grandiose, we ought to work on changing how we treat each other.

Two scenes from Chicago's lakefront, from two recent sunny days:

A fellow who is out with his wife -- apparently uncertain of the etiquette of the lake's bike-and-jogging path -- tentatively moves his bike away from the water fountain, and horizontally across the path so that he can get in the proper lane.

Another bicyclist is barreling along. He sees the crossing bicyclist too late, and slams into him. Both men hit the deck.

The man who has been speeding along picks himself up and screams at the top of his voice:

"You ----ing idiot! You ----ing idiot! What is wrong with you, you ----ing idiot?"

The man who had been walking the bike across the path is humiliated; he tries to speak with the man who hit him, to apologize, but the obscenities continue to be bellowed at him, as people watch. His wife looks as if she is about to cry.

Now the next scene:

Farther north on the trail, near Belmont Harbor, a line of six or seven men and women on bicycles is rolling, single file, in a southward direction. It's kind of narrow there; there is not much extra room for people on one side or the other.

Walking north, by herself, is a woman considerably older than the bicyclists. She is not straddling the center line with her feet; she is where she is supposed to be.

The bicyclists, as they speed past her, tell her to "Get over" -- to move out of their way.

As she is doing so, a female bicyclist -- near the end of the line -- pedals past the woman, whom she knows nothing about and has never met, and says to the woman:


The expression on the older woman's face is startled and embarrassed and sad at the same time. She has gone out for a walk -- alone, unlike many people along the lake -- she has been trying to enjoy the day solo, and for no apparent reason she has gratuitously been called a bitch by some younger woman rolling by.

Now . . . in the first situation, the man who repeatedly bellowed the obscenity at the crossing bicyclist, in front of the crossing bicyclist's wife, had the right of way; the person he hit was inadverently in the wrong for trying to cross.

In the second situation, the older woman walking by herself was completely in the right.

In both cases, though, the aggressors took control immediately. "You ----ing idiot!" "B-tch." Why?

Because they could. Because there is absolutely no value placed, in our current in-your-face culture, on the concept of restraint. If you don't refer to a man who has made a regrettable and unintentional mistake as "a ----ing idiot," you are somehow thought to have lost the upper hand. If, hiding behind the safety of numbers as your group on bikes goes speeding by, you don't let the lone older woman know that in your eyes she is a bitch, you have. . . .

Well, evidently you have missed out on an opportunity to dampen someone's day, to make her feel bad and small. Wouldn't want to miss that.

It's everywhere. At the Wimbeldon tennis championships, the winner in the men's singles, Goran Ivanisevic, was telling reporters about a contoversial point in the match, in which a female official called a foot fault on him.

"My first foot fault all tournament," Ivanisevic said. "That ugly, ugly lady, she was really ugly, very serious, you know. I was like kind of scared."

Very gentlemanly and compassionate, after you've won the match -- to publicly say that about the face of a woman whose only crime was to call a penalty against you that didn't even affect the outcome. Let the woman think of that in the days after the tournament ends -- let her think about what the new champion has told the world about her.

Of course, it won't make any difference in Ivanisevic's career. He is just doing what comes naturally in our only-the-strong-survive society, in which strength is measured not by what is inside of you, but by the ferocity with which you choose to belittle others.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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