Take an ATV ride and rid yourself of a bias | The Latte Guy | July 24

The story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus from a persecutor of early followers of Jesus to St. Paul, an Apostle and pillar of the Christian church, is one of the seminal stories of Christianity. Paul’s conversion occurred on hot and dusty road from Jerusalem to Damascus about 2,000 years ago.

I had a little epiphany of my own about two weeks ago on a hot and dusty road near San Luis Obispo, Calif.

I was in California with the family for my nephew’s wedding. While we were there, at the “suggestion” (some might call it “insistence”) of the off-roader who is my wife, we decided to sneak in an afternoon of riding rented four-wheel ATVs through the sand dunes at Oceano Beach.

Until that weekend, I had never thought of myself as an ATV/off-road sort of person. In fact, I always looked at people who are attracted to off-road driving as mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging environmental troglodytes. As I reluctantly prepared to join them on their home turf, or home sand, as it were, I was fully prepared to look down my sunburned nose at them. And I was all but certain that I’d come away from the off-road ATV experience with my biases and prejudices intact, if not expanded.

Unfortunately, I had the time of my life. It turns out that charging up giant sand dunes at full throttle in complete disregard of one’s health and safety is really an awful lot of fun.

Even more disturbingly, all of the people I met while tearing through the dunes were uniformly polite, courteous, and ready to lend a hand whenever one of us got ourselves stuck on the lip of a dune, an event that occurred with alarming regularity.

I really didn’t expect to enjoy myself out there with the dune buggy and dirt bike crowd, but I did. Very much.

By the time we finished, my right thumb hurt from leaning on the throttle, my left foot ached from taking the ATV through its gears, and my internal organs felt like they had been removed with a grappling hook and run through a blender set on stun.

But the main thought going through my mind was whether my sister would ever forgive me if I skipped the next day’s wedding in order to log another afternoon on the dunes.

On a bigger ATV. With a cooler helmet.

My little off-roading experience reminded me of the danger of harboring unfounded biases and prejudices. Such preconceived notions about people you’ve never met and activities you’ve never engaged in often serve as locks on doors to wisdom and happiness. Someone once described prejudices as chains forged by ignorance to keep people apart.

We all have prejudices of one form or another, except, perhaps for the late, great W.C. Fields, who often boasted:

“I am free of all prejudice; I hate everyone equally.”

The sad thing about prejudices is that they prevent us from doing things that turn out to be great experiences and lots of fun, and they prevent us from getting to know people who are really not all that different from ourselves. The good thing about prejudices is that they rarely withstand the test of reality.

All that’s required is a willingness to step outside of your own personal comfort zone once in a while, to forsake your own “reality” once in a while, and experience someone else’s.

You don’t have to take a walk down the road to Damascus to have a life changing experience. You also don’t need to strap on a goofy helmet and follow your crazy wife off a steep sand dune at breakneck speed, although I highly recommend the experience.

All you need to do is be willing to admit that some long-held belief you cling to like a favorite old stuffed bear might, in fact, be wrong.

Who’s to say that the life viewed from the window of a high-rise office building in downtown Seattle is any more sane or holy or beautiful than that same life viewed through scratchy rented goggles while racing through the sands of a California beach.

I’ll see you at the next Tractor Pull. Bring your own skateboards.