This morning, as I was walking to class, I experienced an activity that I have witness nearly hundreds of times. Engage your imagination for a second:
Imagine that you are walking along on the street at a steady pace, listening to music or just walking with the purpose of getting to your destination. As you continue to walk, a guy/girl exits out of a building and starts walking in the same direction as you. Even more startling: he/she begins to walk at the same pace as you.
In this situation, I have found that at least 90% of the time, one of the two walkers will change pace (faster or slower) to prevent walking side-by-side. Furthermore, neither of the walkers will look at each other beyond a casual glance to make sure they do not recognize them.
Why is this? Why don’t we just continue to walk at our normal casual pace, regardless of who walks beside us?
I Propose three explanations for this phenomenon.
- If you walk next to a person at relatively the same pace, you feel socially obligated to talk to them. Otherwise, the two of you are in close proximity, and doing a similar task, but not communicating in any way. This social pressure makes you feel awkward, especially if you are zoning out or just trying to get by. For this reason, you might end the situation by trailing behind or pushing ahead.
- You feel threatened by the pressence of another walker who you do not know in close proximity to you. After all, stranger danger is real, and even more real when they are readily available to and close enough to hurt you.
- People will think you guys know each other, simply because you are walking next to each other. Generally, only friends or associates will walk next to each other in the street, and if you do not want to be tied to this person socially, then you need to break the connection and either fall behind or move ahead.
All of these explanations, although valid, strike me as ridiculous. We’re all human, and we all know how to walk (mostly), why can’t we walk beside each other without the situation becoming complicated?