It’s not a sight you see every day. Or any day. Or even some days. A giant, red bike looking much more like a large caravan outfitted with 29 pairs of pedals and 29 red-shirted riders, set to pedal their way (slowly I assume) through the city.
After indulging in some fantasy about a police escort, loud music, and cheering fans accompanying my (semi)regular cardio routine, this wonder of modern bike modification made me think about life, leadership, and the pursuit of biggest goals.
In case you were curious, this giant machine has a name; aptly, the Big Bike, ridden in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. It is fitting that a fundraising venture to support an organization that advocates for healthy living is a physical pursuit, relying on the collective physical endurance of a team of volunteers. The cycle won’t run smoothly or straight without everyone pedalling together. Each person relies on the other to move forward.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The power of all is seemingly too much for the power of one. There are numerous quotes, sayings, platitudes, and words of advice that promote the great power of the collective and the great importance of community. A nearly impossible task, like pedalling a comically large, bright red bicycle, becomes almost effortless and even exciting when everyone joins in, giving freely of their time and energy (not to mention their soon to be aching calf muscles).
In the same breath, however, we share, pin, tweet, and post quotes and sayings that promote and celebrate the individual. One everyone else goes left, you can go right. When you want to keep going, others may tell you to give up. We are unique, special, perfectly imperfect, free to go our own way.
Can we do both? Should we be both?
When I think about who I walk with , the path isn’t always wide enough for us all to walk together. Sometimes I walk much slower than those ahead of me, and in other moments I’m the one setting the pace. Looking at the Big Bike and its riders lined up and ready to pedal together, I thought about those moments where I feel like I can’t pedal, or much less climb onto the bicycle seat. Would the bike still move without me? Would the others resent me for not carrying my ‘fair’ share of the load? Would they stop and let me catch my breath if I couldn’t keep up?
The power of the bicycle, much like the power of a community, is the collective power put toward a common goal. What happens, though, when we feel like we are merely along for the ride, our strength and skills perhaps only accidentally contributing to the pursuit of the vision; a vision we’re not sure we can see clearly or want as badly?
Together, then, doesn’t always and shouldn’t necessarily be synonymous with uniformity and unison.
The big red bike works, and only works, when everyone works in unison, expending nearly uniform effort and enthusiasm for a single, common goal. Mechanically, the bike forces everyone to move together, as one. If one of the many want to change direction or stop, their effort alone wouldn’t be enough to sway the group. How often do we feel this way, swimming (or pedalling) upstream (or uphill), being swept along by the current of progress wrapped up in the energy of forward momentum?
There is, of course, power in collective progress. When sweeping change is needed, a large group pedalling steady forward will achieve a goal faster than a lone rider. There is a time and place for the big red bicycle, but even the biggest bike does not take up the entire path we walk. We may move more slowly, but, together, we can walk the path smoothed by those who pedal ahead. Together, we can more readily see the unique strengths of our fellow travellers. Some of us can slow down, some can speed up, and some of us can stand still, all without being left behind or flattened by the steady, expected speed of life. The big red bicycle reminded me today that life seems to move at one constant speed, and any deviation from the path seems impossible as we attempt to furiously pedal along. If we learn to walk together, instead of in unison, we can show the way, follow a path carved by others, or simply keep pace with someone to share in their story. Let’s walk, run, or pedal along this path; not all at once, but all together.
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