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Newton cyclist tries to bridge the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’

Despite not considering himself an athlete, Dick Simon has long dreamed of biking cross-country. The Newton resident recently checked the goal off his bucket list while completing a larger mission: to better understand his fellow Americans’ hopes and fears through his kNOw THEM Initiative.

In fact, Simon calls the word “them” the “most dangerous four-letter word in the English language for its ability to marginalize, dehumanize, and create conflict.” He raises awareness of the power of what he has termed “THEMification” through online TED Talks, presentations at schools and community organizations, photo exhibitions, conferences, and the distribution of educational materials.

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Simon, 62, also works to bridge the gap between “us” and “them” as chairman and co-founder of the Peace Action Network of YPO, an international network of CEOs through which he convenes business leaders, policy makers, religious figures, and other experts in international areas of geopolitical conflict.

When he embarked on his kNOw THEM America Bicycle Trip this past spring, Simon wanted to challenge his own preconceived notions of Americans who live differently and hold political views other than his own. After dipping his back wheel in the Pacific Ocean on a beach in Astoria, Ore., on May 10, he traveled 3,958 miles before dipping his front wheel in the Atlantic Ocean off Boston’s coast on Aug. 20.

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Simon, who chronicled the journey in blog entries at cycleamerica.dicksimon.com, traveled an average of 65 miles per day. While he occasionally biked alongside family and friends, he spent most of the time alone in “moving meditation” appreciating beautiful landscapes, marveling at the welcoming nature of the many people he met, overcoming his fear of bridges and other heights, and getting in “the best shape that I’ve been in since forever.”

“It was an opportunity to see America and get to know myself better,” he said, “but what I want to share is how fully you can experience life when you address your fears instead of letting them control you.”

Simon will discuss his journey at the Newton Schools Foundation’s sixth annual Newton Inspires: An Evening of Ideas and Community from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at Newton South High School. To register and view a complete list of speakers, visit newtonschoolsfoundation.org/newton-inspires.

Cindy Cantrell may be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.
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