This is a guest post from Noah Berman ’13. As always, we encourage anyone with an idea, story, video, recipe, etc. to send us their work at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll consider it for a guest post!
I ride my bike a lot. I’m not, however, a cyclist. I don’t even really ride it for exercise. I ride my bike to get from point A to point B. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s convenient. It is, quite literally, the most perfect form of human powered transportation ever invented, purely in terms of conservation of energy. And I’m a nice guy. Anyone who knows me would probably agree. I can be an ass, but its almost always in good fun. Of course, I do have moments of less than admirable behavior, but any slip I make is usually unintentional, the consequence of taking a joke too far or some such mistake. I make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes.
In light of the recent uproar over Delta house, dorm damage has come to fore of the college consciousness. A certain amount of damage is inevitable: someone microwaves tinfoil or spills wine on a carpet. Mistakes. Mistakes are understandable, for to err is to be human. But smashing a light fixture is not a mistake. Destroying nearly twice the dollar amount of allotted property is not a mistake. Lets just consider that for a second. They were given an allotment of property to destroy, and that amount was exceeded. Middlebury, in essence, sanctified a prescribed amount of damage, said “you can break this much stuff, but no more…” And they broke more. Middlebury prides itself on churning out well-rounded students, students ready to become productive members of society. What sort of society tells a young man that he can destroy with impunity up to a limit, at which point he is immediately penalized? Certainly not one that hopes him to be productive. Not one that expects him to deal well with taking responsibility.
I personally don’t care that Delta house was closed, but I wouldn’t have cared if it stayed open, either. It matter very little to me. What does matter to me is the culture of casual destruction that has been fostered here, in this elite institution filled with privilege and money. It’s easier to patch over unpleasantries than it is to require us, the well-rounded and the productive, to keep a hold on our animal instincts. There are very few productive members of society who routinely get so drunk that they destroy others’ property, and it speaks rather poorly of us that we feel so entitled that we do. Blinded by the facility with which we glide through life, we feel so entitled that when we are punished, we rebel. We feel the consequences, clearly stated and understood, are unfair. I find that reaction disturbing. So should we all. It’s the same sentiment that keeps Wall Street banks floating in cash, while the poor get poorer. And yet, Middlebury actively fosters this environment. Punishment is unfair. We are above the law.
Now, let’s talk about my bicycle. Since I have been at Middlebury, my personal property has been actively abused. So, I’m unlucky right? Freshman year, I forgot to lock my bike one day before I went into Proctor. It was gone when I came back. I never saw it again. My fault, excuse me, I didn’t lock it. Sophomore year. New year, new bike. This time, I locked it religiously. Unfortunately, one night before I went to bed, I locked only the front wheel of my bike to the bike rack. I came back out in the morning, and the body of my bike was gone. But someone had left my wheel for me. Thanks! Junior year, new bike, incident free. Senior year was shaping up to be incident free as well, until yesterday.
My stolen bikes, I understand. Someone wanted a bike, wanted, like I wanted, to be able to get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently. I get it. But last night I left my bike locked outside of my Atwater dormitory, and left. Facilities had not yet brought the bike racks back out from their winter storage, so I left it the same way I had left it every day for nearly two semesters: locked to itself, leaning against the wall, out of the way. Out of the way. This morning, I woke up and there was vomit in the stairwell. There was broken glass outside my suite where someone had thrown an empty beer bottle at our door. And I found my bicycle moved. I assumed someone had tried to ride it, realized that it was locked to itself and just left it. So I picked it up, unlocked it, and tried to ride. Turns out the would be bicycle thief had realized he could not ride away on my bicycle, and had become enraged. Or perhaps he had just coolly decided that, if he couldn’t ride it, neither could I. Either way, he threw it so hard that the gears bent, becoming entangled in the spokes.
This student, although the violence inherent in the action leads me to assume he was a man, remains anonymous. It could have been anyone. Any person at this school who feels so little personal responsibility for his own actions that he can continue through his life unperturbed, safe in the knowledge that he is entitled. Entitled to a bicycle when he wants it, entitled to ruin it if he can’t make it work, entitled to an outstanding education, entitled to the world and all it has in it. Regardless of any toes that must be stepped on. Without thought for consequences.
There is no way for me to impose any consequences on the faceless, drunk, pathologically enraged, soon-to-be-productive member of society that I see in my head, but I wish there were. I wish there were because it was, frankly, rude. It was disrespectful, thoughtless, witless, crude, bad-mannered, uncivil and downright rude. So let’s do a fun experiment and say no to our industrial culture of unchecked destruction and wonton disregard for others. It’ll be a pleasant change, like going to the beach after several years of being assaulted by psychotic, drunken vandals. And if anyone wants to confess to me that they destroyed my bike, I would gladly accept an apology and an offer to pay for the new one. Because I’m not an unreasonable man. In fact, I’m generally a pretty nice guy.