A friend once likened me to a Russian icebreaker – the small boat that finds the cracks in the ice, breaking it apart and allowing the larger ships to come through.
We were at SXSW and my skills at navigating a crowd without stopping impressed. I grew up on Long Island, heading into New York City on weekends and learned how to spot the openings at an early age. I can make my way through most any crowd, barely touching anyone as I slide by them. If I suspect they might move and block the way, I’ll put my hand on a shoulder or back, while saying, “Excuse me” and pass on by.
I have always considered this to be a serious skill of mine.
The other week, though, a friend related a story about how she was walking along the sidewalk and a guy was walking right at her. She stood her ground and the guy got mad at her – why wouldn’t she move out of his way? Wait, what? Why wouldn’t he move out of her way?
I started thinking about how I navigate the streets of New York. My default is to not bump into people, and to navigate crowds swiftly and easily, walking around people when necessary.
So the last two weeks, I decided to see what the reality was.
Were the people who wouldn’t out of my way mostly men?
I had a few exceptions, from the outset, of course. First off, if I was on the wrong side of the sidewalk (the left half), it was incumbent upon me to move out of the way. I do not fault anyone who is on the right side of the sidewalk for not moving out of the way for a jerk who’s on the wrong side.
That’s just common sense.
If I was behind someone, I would walk around them – they don’t have eyes in the backs of their heads. It would be ridiculous if I acted otherwise.
But, man or woman, if the person was on the wrong side of the sidewalk, going through a doorway, or in the center, near me, I would see who flinched first.
The thing that surprised me the most?
Not that almost all the people who I actually collided with were men – not all, but the overwhelming majority – but that despite thinking about this as I was walking and coming upon someone, I would automatically move out of the way anyway.
My shoulder would involuntarily scrunch up so we didn’t crash, or I’d dart to the side a little bit.
I didn’t do it on purpose. I was trying NOT to move out of their way. But the behavior is so ingrained that I couldn’t help myself.
Yesterday, I crashed into three people, but could have crashed into several more. Those I crashed into? Two men, one woman. All on the wrong side of the sidewalk.
What does this say about me that I’m darting out of the way?
Learned behavior is hard to shut down. It’s instinctual. In some ways, it’s good – it’s non-confrontational, and it keeps me from getting hurt. But wtf, people? Stay on your side of the sidewalk.