Norming theft

By Marion Robinson

Perhaps it is my fate to not own a bike. This may explain why, just months after arriving in the Netherlands and initially refusing to buy one based on my own principle that bikes are a liability – but later succumbing to the constant question of ‘where’s your bike?’ – it would get stolen just two weeks after I bought it.

At first, I felt considerable annoyance for not listening to my own premonitory voice of reason. Then, I felt outraged that a penniless student like me would be the victim of this unwelcome initiation. Even more distressing, when I shared my frustration with others already immersed in the culture, instead of receiving empathy or direction on how to seek justice, I was instead told, matter-of-factly, that my irritation was unwarranted because ‘that’s how it is here!’
For a long time, this response occupied my mind. I tried to decipher possible reasons why I felt more chagrin about having my possession unjustly taken while others were able to dismiss the experience, even after having their tenth bike stolen. I thought about an explanation from cultural psychology: the way people react when faced with ethical dilemmas is dependent on cultural mores.

Perhaps I lived too long in a country where injustices are followed by individual and collective outcry in the name of righting a wrong. Perhaps my sensitivity to theft is too heightened, having lived in low socioeconomic communities where acquiring things and replacing stolen ones were not as easy. Perhaps I am overly-sensitive to the fact that a bike stolen from me is not just the loss of a mass of metal, but the loss of money that I already have too little of. Perhaps in the city of Groningen there is no lack of financial means to replace a stolen bike and therefore the act is dismissed as simply a harmless wrong. Could it be that bike theft is so pervasive that it is considered normal?

Whatever the reason, this is not a call for anarchy but a challenge for greater responsiveness about being victimized by felons. Bike theft is not a victimless crime and its significance should not be downplayed by an individual’s ability to replace the stolen item. Inconsequential injustices or harmless wrongs have the potential to open doors to devastating societal distresses that may not be as easy to close by simply buying new hinges.

As for me, I refuse to fund criminal coffers. Having my bike stolen once was enough, so since then I have walked to most of my destinations. I have found that a bike is really not an asset and until there are greater regulations about bike theft in Groningen, I chose to take a stand against being victimized.


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