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That Awkward Conversation at the Bubbler


If you've found yourself in a conversation with a coworker or family member about how the gas tax just keeps going up, or how there really needs to be a highway expansion to get rid of this traffic, or the always fun one about how people who take public transportation should pay for their own services and stop raking everyone else for tax money, you may share my anguish in not quite being able to step away from the conversation, but also not being able to bring it to a constructive result.

So what are some things we can do that might change this picture?

As usual, I think Rachel has the wisdom that I lack.  She's always gently suggesting that I ask more questions, and make fewer statements.  Perhaps us activist-types should stop thinking we can bring the right facts to people to have them change their minds.  Instead, maybe we should ask a few more questions about why their minds are where they are in the first place.

What Not to Do (But What Most of Us, Myself Included, Actually Do)

Family Member/Coworker:  God, the gas tax is going up again!  The government just hates cars!

You:  Well, the gas tax doesn't even pay for the roads you drive on in your hummer, dude.  Maybe you should pay for the roads with the gas tax instead of making people in buses, trains, and on bikes pay for it.

Uh uh.  Not going to work (although you're right!).

What Might Work Better (Although Probably Not as Well as You Want)

Family Member/Coworker:  God, the gas tax is going up again!  The government just hates cars! (It's Groundhog Day around here, so your coworker just keeps saying the same thing at the proverbial water cooler/bubbler).

You: (Deep breath!)  Hmm, why do you say that? 

Family Member/Coworker: It's just getting more and more expensive to get to work.

You:  (Uh uh uh! Don't blow your load yet and give facts! Another deep breath. . . ) Yeah, it is really hard to get by sometimes.  Where you coming from? (Or some other probing question. . .)

Family Member/Coworker:  Kingston!  Takes me forever to park!  Grumble, grumble.

See, now you've got something:

You: Oh, Kingston!  I used to live there.  Have you tried taking the 66 bus?

What follows may go in any sort of direction.  It's probably not going to end with your coworker deciding to take the bus (although, at least in a couple situations, when I've had the patience to listen, I've ended up picking a convert or two up).  More likely, though, it will open up a place for you to subtly introduce some of the knowledge you've picked up about the subject of transportation reform, hopefully with minimal eye-twitching at the awful policies your acquaintance has suggested to fix transportation problems.  After all, you've just introduced them to a reasonable person who takes the bus/bikes/whatever.  They may not think they know such a person.

Just remember, the policies your conversation mate has in mind (low gas taxes, wider roads, get rid of those damn cyclists, etc.) may be totally wrong, but you have to have patience if you're going to have half a chance to show them that.

Do as I say, not as I do, that's all I can say.

1 comment:

  1. I just tell my story: I used to drive until my car was stolen last August. At that point, I had to take the bus, and missed my car terribly. We got it back a week later, damaged, but repairable. But by then I had realized the cost savings (gas, insurance, repairs, registration) as well as the positive environmental impact, and I decided not to repair my car. We've been taking the bus ever since.

    As to the "damn cyclists," I just shrug and say "they're in way better shape than I am." I doubt I've changed any minds, either, but I've quieted a few people down.