People-like-us Syndrome

I left my bicycle in the London Library’s bike-shed yesterday. The shed has a lock that can be opened only by library members, and so I didn’t bother to chain the bike to one of the stands. I usually do, but it was a Sunday, the library was closed and I figured the odds were that few if any other members would be opening and closing the door, potentially letting strangers in. During the week, I chain the bike when I leave it there, but I don’t bother to double-chain the basket, which detaches, the way I do when I leave it on the street.

Notice that I was only worried about strangers. I noticed that too, when I thought about locking/not-locking it. It never occurred to me that a library member would steal my bike. I mean, they’re London Library members. They’re people like me!

I make those kind of unconscious decisions all the time, and I’m sure we all do. It’s OK to leave my scarf on a seat, because only university members come here; it’s not OK to leave my book there, ‘anyone’ might come across it. There are in-groups and out-groups in my head. And for some reason, my in-groups (library members, shoppers at one specific — but not any other — farmers’ market, neighbours) have no dishonest people in them, no liars, thieves, cheats.

All the more shocking, therefore, when I read this morning that at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, publishers were losing up to 75 per cent of their stock to, well, looters — 75 per cent can’t really be called petty pilfering, can it? My assumption, automatically, is that some ‘they’ group — outsiders — came in and perpetrated the thefts. Because I can’t get my head around the fact that book people would steal. They wouldn’t, would they? Even though I know there are statistically as many liars, cheats, thieves among my professional cohort as anyone else’s professional cohort.

I know it, but I don’t believe it.

About inspectorbucket
Judith Flanders was born in London, England, in 1959. She moved to Montreal, Canada, when she was two, and spent her childhood there, apart from a year in Israel in 1972, where she signally failed to master Hebrew. After university, Judith returned to London and began working as an editor for various publishing houses. After this 17-year misstep, she began to write and in 2001 her first book, A Circle of Sisters, the biography of four Victorian sisters, was published to great acclaim, and nominated for the Guardian First Book Award. In 2003, The Victorian House (2004 in the USA, as Inside the Victorian Home) received widespread praise, and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards History Book of the Year. In 2006 Consuming Passions, was published. Her most recent book, The Invention of Murder, was published in 2011. Judith contributes articles, features and reviews for a number of newspapers and magazines.

5 Responses to People-like-us Syndrome

  1. Elle Flanders says:

    I’m on the edge of my seat…was your bike there? Was the basket? Your library people would NEVER steal was the point, right?! Please tell me your bike was there and all is right in the world. I’m praying.

    • It’s OK, you can breathe again, of COURSE it was there! Even if library people are thieves (nah!), it was Sunday morning at 9 a.m., and they were all safely asleep… Phew. *wipes brow*

  2. PD says:

    I get to write more here than on pesky twitter. I think what I meant was more like the first reply above… it just seemed like one of those ‘I trusted everyone and look what happened to me…’ pieces. I began to see it as a thriller rather than a real story. I expected a denouement. I wanted catharsis. I feared the worst, part of me hoping for better but part of me dying for some kind of incident. What bigger sign that society has failed than if an LL member lurks around the bike shed of a Sunday (out of hours of course) praying on bicycles left by other members? The whole thing was set up perfectly for that to happen, and then we ended up at the Bologna book fair.

    It is still a staggering (appalling) statistic, but that is books; low value items that people can steal and then lie to themselves to excuse. But a bike! Is it rusty? Is it carbon fibre? How much is it worth? All of these things I would factor in as well, so if the bike was worth a lot more than library membership, things could get tricky. I do all of these thought processes too (don’t we all? No? Ah…) and I’m absolutely thrilled that your risk assessment was accurate. But I just wanted a police helicopter and a chase on horseback through the park…

    • Great idea, I should have thought of that. As the OJ Simpson of the bicycle world, I could have created a low-speed chase on cycles across Green Park. Wouldn’t you know, a plot handed to me on a plate, and I just ramble on about books?

  3. It all boils down to the distinction between fact and opinion. And that’s a fact! Or is it an opinion?

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