Sorrow said something a couple days ago that got me thinking:

We never know when we leave a footprint, for better or worse.

It dovetailed with some things I’d been thinking about “representing”. Representing being what we do when we are the only person who is [x] that the people in our lives know. This is talked about among vegan and animal rights advocates a fair amount, and I’m betting the same is true in bike advocacy circles and home schooling parents and breast-feeding moms…and really any group that isn’t mainstream, and yet gets some level of scrutiny from the outside world.

Just being “the vegan” makes me the representative vegan for many of the people in my life. Especially in certain areas, like in my family and at work and among my neighbors. Like it or not and intentionally or not, I’m creating the picture of what most of these people will think of as the typical vegan. This means that if I want to do what I can to put forth a positive view of veganism, I have to think about my actions, reactions, and even what I bring or don’t bring for lunch.

I can imagine that parents who home-school run into a great deal of scrutiny when it comes to their kids. Regardless of the fact that kids who go to a school are going to end up in a huge range of social skills, academic levels, etc, those home-schooled kids are probably examined with a view that any “fault” will be attributed to the mere fact of them being home-schooled.

The reality is that it is not just those of us in obvious non-mainstream subsets of society that are constantly representing, we are simply more aware when we are part of such small groups that we have a disproportionate impact on the views of those around us, when it comes to their picture of what is typical.

And when you see that, you realize that every person with every action is making those footprints that sorrow mentioned. Sometimes there are so many footprints that you don’t consciously notice one more, but there is part of our brain that keeps track. Sometimes it isn’t an accurate picture of reality.

My mom, years and years ago, was stopped by a cop who gave her a speeding ticket. “I don’t know what it is about people who drive blue cars,” he told her. “Every car I’ve stopped today has been blue.” My mom, of course, was just keeping up with traffic. It wasn’t just blue cars that were speeding, but that cop was now primed to notice the speeding blue cars to the exclusion of people speeding in cars that were not blue.

The individual behaviors of the drivers of the cars where I ride my bike eventually form a collective impression of the drivers of that area. Accurate or not when applied to any given car driver around me, it nevertheless forms my expectations. Expectations created based on my personal experience.

So much of our daily life in this society is more or less anonymous. I think people forget that anonymous or not, they’re making impressions. Leaving footprints.