Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Can We All Just Be a Little Nicer To Each Other?
I hate 'Commuter Me'. 'Real Me' is polite. Friendly. Considerate.
Commuter Me is not.
Commuter Me does not let others get on the train first. Commuter Me walks quickly, sighing at people who are in her way. Commuter Me gets all huffy when a newspaper invades her personal space. Commuter Me has zero compassion for others.
But Commuter Me was on the Victoria Line the other day, travelling into Central London when she witnessed a fellow commuter get right up in the face of another commuter and shout at him, before proceeding to barge his way through the rest of the carriage, purposely knocking into people (who said nothing) and angrily shouting at others on the platform.
It was unpleasant, it was aggressive, and it was very, very unkind.
I tried to catch the eye of the shaken Other Commuter, who just looked down at his shoes while everyone stared straight ahead. No one offered him a sympathetic smile; no one even showed their disapproval at the Raging Commuter.
I was once in the same position as the Other Commuter: I was on a bus from Islington to Bloomsbury, when a man barrelled his way through the crowded bus before shouting that I wasn't moving (there was literally nowhere to move to). So he physically knocked right through me, while I shouted, "F*cking asshole!" after him (not my finest moment, I'll admit). Of course, instead of throwing a sympathetic look or two my way, my fellow commuters looked at me like I'd grown two heads. But I'll never forget what happened next: a woman standing nearby tapped me on the shoulder and asked in a concerned voice, "Hey. Are you okay? That was weird. So f*cking weird." And her empathy made all the difference.
I looked at Other Commuter and all the feelings I felt that day on the bus came rushing back to me: anger, humiliation, and shame. So, when my stop arrived, I waited to see if he would get off too. When he didn't, I made a snap decision to get back on the tube and walked over to him quickly. I touched his arm.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"I'm fine, thanks," he said, a bit surprised.
"That was horrible," I said. "You didn't deserve that. I just wanted to let you know," I added, before walking away.
"Thanks a lot - I appreciate it," he replied, smiling.
I felt bad that I didn't/couldn't intervene at the time - and I know that this is such a contentious subject. It's difficult to put yourself in danger in order to defend a stranger (and judging from Raging Commuter's physical and verbal aggression, the situation might have had the potential to become violent). But I knew that I could do some damage control.
I thought about Commuter Me's own behavior every morning and vowed to change it - which is easier said than done. It's hard not to push back when people are pushing into you. It's hard not to instinctively jump on the train when everyone's rushing to cram onto the same carriage.
But I noticed that the more people I let in front of me, the less I rushed, the more compassion I tried to extend ... the same was afforded to me. Not just on the tube: this morning, when trying to sort out an appointment mix-up at the doctor's office, a fellow patient - jiggling a baby on her hip - approached me and said, "I couldn't help overhearing - but if you wanted to swap appointments with me so that you get seen sooner, I don't mind! Just let me know." I couldn't believe it. Who's that nice?
Well, us. We all have the potential to be just a little nicer to each other. Certain situations can bring out the worst in us (hello, Central Line at rush hour!). But the kindness is there. And that's what I need to remember; it's what I need to unlock.