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Carless in L.A.: Get Out of Your Car and Say Hi

PeoplewalkingWhen I heard about the race-based shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, last week, I got angry. All I could think was that this has got to stop. We have to do something about racism. Every one of us.

Now, you may ask, what does this have to do with trying to live a greener life? Everything. Because who are we saving the planet for if not for our fellow human beings? We can live greener than green, but if our hearts are polluted by the non-thinking tendency to believe the worst in others not like us, then what’s the point? We live green to create a livable and beautiful world, but that has to include a whole lot of folks who don’t look like us. Or think like us.

But first, we have to acknowledge that while we are not violent White Supremacists (and I’m not even suggesting that we are), we – especially those of us who are White – have to face up to the negative stereotypes we have of others not like us. We may not consciously harbor negative thoughts about others, but they’re there. They happen. Our media are filled with negative stereotypes and images of people of color, with few positive images to balance the negative ones. We can’t help but be affected by that. I’ve taken classes in African American culture. I have several Black friends and I’ve done and said stupid things.

The trick is to face it and work harder at getting rid of those negative attitudes. You can’t fix something you refuse to acknowledge exists. And I think I have a way to do it, which also happens to correspond to the main theme of living green and, in our case, without owning a car.

Racism is based on fear. I think that’s pretty obvious. So if we’re going to get past this, we need to take the fear out of the equation. How to do that? We get out of our cars.

I’m serious. When I first started using public transportation more, back when I was living in the Chicago area, I noticed something odd. People said hello to me as I passed them on the street of the northern Chicago suburb where I was living. Okay, after a lifetime in the suburbs of Southern California, passing people on the street was weird enough. But some people – all of whom, by the way, were Black – said, “Hi, how are you?” as I walked past them. And it felt good. So I began saying hi back. And that felt better.

Then when we gave up our car, I began saying hi to everyone as I walked past them. I nodded and smiled at folks on the bus. I even spent one day doing nothing but praying for each person I encountered – not aloud, but enough that I was connected to all the people around me.

I know some of you are thinking, “But what if you’re saying hi to a gangster or rapist or crazy killer?” The odds are astronomically against it, though I could be. But I don’t think I’m putting myself at risk by doing so. In fact, given my self-defense training, I have good reason to believe that I’m actually doing something protective.The first principle of self-defense is being aware of your surroundings. Saying hi to people means I’m doing exactly that. Also, when I say hi to someone, I’m immediately telling that person two things. One, that I’ve seen him or her and could probably identify that person (not at all what your average crook wants), and two, that I’m not afraid of that person. If the person is your basic good person, like 99.99 percent are, then me not being afraid is reassuring and friendly. If I happen to come across that somebody nasty, well, folks like that do not want to mess with someone who isn’t afraid. That’s why self-defense coaches tell women to put on that bad-ass attitude when they’re walking around. And, finally, people don’t generally attack people who are nice to them.

So here is my challenge to you – get out of your car for a day or two and take a walk around your neighborhood. Or the next neighborhood over. Offer each person a confident, pleasant hello. See what happens. You may just find that that kid with his pants down past his backside is the local honor student. You may just find your heart growing lighter. You may just find that you’re making life on this planet just a little bit better, and that’s kind of the point of this whole exercise, isn’t it?

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