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Parsing Durango’s deep bumper sticker wisdom

Maybe it would be nicer to say “Please hang up and drive”? (Courtesy of Double Take)

Dear Action Line: Is it just me, or is there some mixed messaging going on here? More importantly, is this the most “Durango” of bumper sticker combinations ever? – Double Take

Dear Double Take: Indeed, this is classic peacenik, fun-hog, liberal-leaning Durango. A locally purchased Subaru with two bumper stickers – the classic blue “coexist” and the popular “Hang up and drive!” With a bike rack to boot.

What Action Line finds, let’s say, interesting, is when someone with a “Coexist” bumper sticker needlessly cuts you off in traffic. This hasn’t occurred just once. Don’t people with these decals have a duty to behave in a manner that will help us all get along?

Or, to quote you, is it just me?

This is how Action Line interprets the messaging here: “Peace out, bro, and don’t be a dang idiot!” Or maybe, “Shut up and chill!”

We’re all going to interpret these messages differently. Fortunately, Action Line has a great source in Brian Burke, professor of psychological science at Fort Lewis College. He thinks about these kinds of things for a living.

“It is indeed a very ‘Durango’ combination of bumper stickers,” he said in an email, “though I detect no mixed messaging there: The driver is clearly a scientist, likely a psychologist, and believes that humans should follow the evidence in making decisions in our lives.

“There is a plethora of psychological research – and more ongoing – that definitively illustrates that discrimination is both harmful and also unfounded. In other words, there is no credible scientific case to be made for the moral (or any other) superiority of a specific group of people over other groups based on skin color, religious affiliation, or any other identity variable you can muster.”

And regarding the “hang up” sticker, obviously referring to the all-too-ubiquitous driver toying with a cellphone, Burke cited the Applied Cognition Lab at the University of Utah (“just up the street from our little town”) run by David Strayer, a cognitive neuroscientist and professor.

“(The lab) has shown via a driving simulator for the past two decades that driving while using a phone impairs our abilities at a similar level to alcohol; that even though many people think of themselves as ‘super taskers’ (e.g., they believe they can multitask efficiently), only 2% of the population can actually do so; and that even hands-free phones impair our driving because the talker at the other end of the phone may be vying for our attention at inopportune times.”

On that latter point, in other words, while your passenger knows when you need to focus at “Dysfunction Junction,” your caller doesn’t, and might pick an inopportune time to tell you, “Oh, by the way, I’m pregnant,” or similarly distracting news.

So it would be helpful if we all hung up and drove. And Action Line believes we do need to coexist, even if the rest of the world isn’t cooperating so well lately. Heck, even the history of that bumper sticker has a rather sordid story.

It was originally designed by a Polish graphic artist for a 2000 competition by a Jerusalem modern art museum on the theme “coexistence.” He made the C into the Muslim crescent, the T into a Christian cross and reimagined the X into the Jewish Star of David. The exhibition went around the world. Then some Indiana University students took the Polish artist’s idea, and trademarked and marketed it. U2 and the always bashful Bono discovered it and used it on their “Vertigo” tour in 2005. Then, someone else added more symbols so none of the other letters would feel left out, and now you have the modern design.

(For an enlightening 5-minute video, Google “the big battle over coexist.”)

The lesson in all this?

Hey, Action Line isn’t here to deliver a message on morality. That’s gonna cost extra, are we clear?

Further pressed, Double Take shared this wisdom: “At my best, when my spirit is peaceful and forgiving, I want to love everybody, but then I step outside my front door and encounter humanity in all its often appalling reality (such as talking on the phone while driving!) and my reptilian brain wants to react in a less forgiving manner.”

That says it all.

Welcome to Durango.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Well, U2 sure suffered its just rewards for “borrowing” from a Polish artist. They’re now relegated to playing tiny gigs inside some eyeball in the Nevada desert. Meanwhile, Jews, Muslims and Christians are getting along just peachy, thank you.