Safe Trails: Catch More Flies With Honey

by Erick Wikum

honeyI’ve experimented with a number of ways to address discourteous and unsafe behaviors on the Little Miami Trail and have come to the conclusion that the old adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” rings true. Constructive criticism shared with fellow trail users, no matter how well meaning or politely stated. is often met with indifference at best and anger akin to road rage at worst. On the other hand, being polite and positive can change the world, one interaction at a time. In particular, individually and collectively, we can help shape behaviors of our fellow trail users by doing the following two things.

1. Set a good example: Mimicry is a powerful force that leads people in any environment to adopt behaviors modeled after those demonstrated by others. We can influence our fellow trail users to be courteous and safe simply by demonstrating desirable behaviors. Calling out “passing on your left,” wearing a helmet, stopping and waiting for clear passage at road crossings, walking dogs on leashes 6 feet in length or less, slowing down around others, obeying the 20 mph speed limit, not hogging the trail and moving off of the trail when stopped are examples of these behaviors. It may seem that people are more apt to copy bad than good behaviors, but our good example does make a difference.

2. Reinforce positive behaviors: Psychologists know that when a subject (be it a person, dog, etc.) repeatedly receives a positive stimulus after displaying a behavior, then that behavior is likely to be repeated, a process known as operative conditioning. How can we reward positive behaviors we observe on the trail? The answer is surprisingly simple—say thank you. This simple but powerful stimulus says “I appreciate your behavior” and makes it more likely that a fellow user will continue to say “passing on your left,” to slow down around others, etc.

We live in a world where it often seems that bad examples are more contagious than good ones. And yet, positivity does make a difference. I hereby deputize you in the fight to establish safe and courteous norms for the Little Miami Scenic Trail. Set a good example and reinforce positive behaviors; thank you!


June 2021

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