'If you cut us off, do we not seethe?'

The Montague Folding Bikes blog has an interesting “Plea for Tolerance” based on Shylock’s monologue from The Merchant of Venice.

The original monologue is delivered by Shylock, a Jew who has suffered malice and discrimination from his Christian enemy, Antonio. Shylock reasons that he is no different from a Christian, and asks why he should not seek his revenge when given the chance — as the behavior of a Christian has instructed him.

Shylock is pissed off, as best portrayed by Al Pacino:

And this is from Montague’s adaptation:

I am a Cyclist. Don’t Cyclists have places to be? Don’t Cyclists have friends, families, engagements, jobs, appointments, obligations; aren’t we entitled to the same rights, injured by the same collisions, subject to the same laws, ticketed by the same police, enduring the same weather and road conditions as Drivers? If you cut us off, do we not seethe?

But Montague does not argue for revenge against motorists, but instead for understanding from them. However, the high ground can be taken only when the cyclist has behaved in a legal, civil and predictable manner — not when the cyclist’s argument is, You flout the law. Why can’t I?

It is rare that I have an altercation with a motorist, but the next time it happens, I only hope I can recall the Montague version of the monologue, and deliver it with the Pacino intensity.

It would be so much more effective than my usual inarticulate stream of expletives.

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13 thoughts on “'If you cut us off, do we not seethe?'”

  1. Paul S. says:

    When someone yells at you from their car

    I prefer these methods. After reading this a few months back, I started simply waiving and smiling at motorists who told me to “get off the road,” “use a bike path,” etc.

    There are several good reasons for this response, including the excellent one given in the poster, but my reason boils down to selfishness. If I yell or get mad, I feel bad and it ruins my ride. If I smile and wave, I find it a lot easier to move on and enjoy what I was already doing.

  2. Tony Bullard says:

    I’ve had a guy come out of me from his car once, after I waved unhappily at him (I swear there were no particular fingers extended)

    I said to him what i say to anyone who seems to be mad at me, and is within voice communication:

    “We’re all just trying to get home / to work.” (depending on time of day.)

    This has instantly calmed people down the few times I’ve used it. It got that guy to turn around and get back in his car. And he was RIGHT in my face.

  3. Ted Johnson says:

    @Tony and @Paul

    I completely agree. It’s been years since I’ve had a verbal altercation with a motorist. The last one was with the guy who doored me in DC, and said I should have been on the sidewalk.

    The corner of his door left a nice scar on my sternum. Broke a pinky too. I got off light.

    But the “say something unexpected” approach is one of the tactics of “Verbal Judo.” Using words to diffuse or de-escalate a volatile situation.

    The Pacino-Shakespeare monologue, however, is an awfully satisfying fantasy.

  4. Don’t have many situations where I get yelled at but in those cases I let my inner French girl take over, who mockingly blows the offending driver a kiss.

  5. BluesCat says:

    “If you cut us off, do we not seethe?” Nah, that would be internalizing my anger, which would lead to heartburn, ulcers, headaches, high blood pressure, etc., etc.

    Better for me to promptly explain, succinctly, certain “share the road” concepts to the #@!* cager: That’s MY Lane.

    Briefly: guy cuts me off as we’re approaching a signaled intersection, then ignores me when I pull my bike up beside his late model Audi to explain to him how that just wasn’t right, then is quite surprised when this old geezer pulls his big, long recumbent bike sideways in front of his car — blocking the entire lane — points to the pavement and declares “This is MY lane!”

    I don’t know about HIM, but I felt MUCH better.

  6. Bike Hanger says:

    Don’t think I’ve been cut off yet, but I would probably follow Karen’s example and blow them a kiss. Or maybe just give them the middle finger.

  7. Commuting by bicycle can be an exercise in emotional control. The better you are at controlling your anger, the more effective sharer of the road you can be, and I think that goes for all types of road sharers. Waving and smiling no matter what works best for me in most situations. I’ve also tried the “Do you need a hug? Who needs a big hug?” approach, which so far only has about a 50% success rate, leading me to favor waving.

  8. Gene @ BU says:

    I wonder if the incidents of driver-to-cyclist initiated disputes is actually any greater than the incidents of driver-to-driver disputes?

    A traffic dispute defined as incidents like simply arguments between two motorists who overreact to being cut off, being impatient with a traffic jam, or are stunned by a near-accident.

    On the other hand, if I were to guess I would say there are more cyclist-to-driver initiated disputes than driver-to-cyclists disputes.

    I try to avoid the “Get out of my way, I have a right to this road” cyclists who endanger everyone.

  9. BluesCat says:

    Gene – I don’t know as I’ve ever run into a “Get out of my way, I have a right to this road” CYCLIST; I have had a number of GOOMWIHARTTR motorists coming up behind me, however. As we all know, there are quite a few drivers out there who think bikes do not belong on the roadway … if there’s no sidewalk, we’re supposed to FLY our bikes everywhere.

  10. Gene @ BU says:

    BluesCat – Hang around the Critical Mass crowd and there appears to be a pervasive attitude that biking is an outlet for social protest and street justice along with the ultra-performance cyclists who believe the roads are their personal race tracks. Then there’s the ear bud and flip flop biker crowd who seem to be oblivious to everything around them.

    I can see why drivers get confused since the “rules” for biking in traffic get flaunted so easily. I do it myself with a roll through a stop sign, a red light drift through, and quick parking lot detour.

    Cyclists, me included, are half the problem.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      I’m not ready to own up to cyclists being half the problem. Maybe one third of the problem. Many or most motorists believe themselves to be privileged users of the road. And why shouldn’t they? They have been been led to believe so for more than a century. Cyclists claiming to have rights to the road must sound patently ridiculous to them.

      Shylock’s bitterness may be understandable to us. But in Shakespeare’s antisemitic Venice, Shylock’s claim to equal treatment — and an equal right to vengeance — is shocking.

      And in the end, Shylock overplays his hand. He uses the law aggressively to punish his oppressors, and then law gets used against him. He is declared an alien, as a Jew, and loses all of his rights — unless he converts to Christianity.

      Critical massers, and other GOOMWIHARTTR cyclists take note.

  11. BluesCat says:

    Gene – Ah, point taken. I don’t ride with the Critical Mass crowd, and my routes to work and for errands keep me on sedate, neighborhood streets for the most part, where there is nary a sign of a Lance-Armstrong-wannabe.

    (chuckle) I do see some Lycra-attired types, but usually they’re not going faster than me and if they are SLOWLY coming up behind me, and I see them in my rear-view mirror, I’ll keep to the right, slow down and motion them by on my left when the motorized traffic clears

  12. dygituljunky says:

    According to statistics, bicyclists are only 12-13% of the problem.

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