Ever being blocked in a store by a person staying right between the shelves? I mean, there’s roughly 1 meter between the shelves, and that guy, or woman is looking at something, not even knowing that you’re there. You look at her (or his) back and, without any way to get ahead, you start to get slowly annoyed.
I know you’ve been there. And not only there. I mean, it could happen on an escalator, for instance. Or right in the middle of the sidewalk. You simply can’t move forward because there’s somebody else, looking in the same direction, not knowing about you coming from behind. It’s frustrating.
The Early Days
When I was younger and I was stumbling upon such a “social blockage” I was very angry. Angry and agitated. Probably I was rushing somewhere (I used to be the rushing type, getting there early, if you know what I mean). Many times I was downright furious: who the hell he or she is to block my way. Move on, lady. Give space, lad, I’m late for a meeting.
Sometimes I even swore. Seemed that, generally speaking, people responded faster to swearing. Especially when they didn’t see it coming, literally.
I may have even push a guy or two, in the process. Or at least slightly touch them. I need my space, it’s clear? Move on.
The Real Distance
Looking back at these past situations (you realized by now that I’m not acting like this anymore), I tried to understand why was I so impulsive. Generally speaking, I wasn’t unpolite. On the contrary. But in that specific situation, I was like really impulsive.
The other day, while I was on an escalator, facing the behind of a nice woman (taking all the space, of course), it suddenly hit me: it’s the distance. You are so close to the person in front of you that you simply can’t understand why she or he doesn’t… I don’t know, feel you? You’re less than a few centimeters away and yet, the other person has no idea about your presence. The distance – or, to be more precise, the proximity – fools you into the assumption that you’re somehow connected. Whereas the other person doesn’t even see you.
As I was going up on my escalator, I realized another thing. That it happens not only in the stores, between the shelves. Or on the escalators. Or in the middle of the sidewalk.
It happens all the time. We assume that people know about us. We assume that they have to act in a certain way. Just because it happens to be both on the same road, we assume that they go in the same direction as we do and, when we realize they don’t, we get angry. And agitated. We may even start to swear. Or push them.
Most of the time we perceive them as roadblocks. When, in fact, they don’t even know we’re there. Like, literally. They have no idea. They could be as well on planet Mars, although we clearly see them in front of us.
They’re not really a part of our world. But just because they’re so close to us, we assume they have to be somehow part of it. Proximity makes us see them as part of our journey. We expect them to know the same things as we do and to act, if not as we do, at least in a predictable way.
Alas, our reality is not always the other person reality too.
We do function by assumption a lot. If we want to cross a road, for instance, we assume that the red light won’t stay red forever and we will eventually see some green and then move on. We assume that after summer there will be fall. We assume that if we do good things, good things will happen to us.
Well, the problem with assumptions is that you have to check them often. Like really often. They’re a very good tool for saving time (we wouldn’t leave our homes at all if we wouldn’t suppose that the rain will eventually end, for instance), but they’re not very good at creating realities. On the contrary, they’re pretty good as screwing up realities.
One the other hand, checking facts is a very good tool for creating realities. Asking questions also works. Confronting people, like in making sure that we see the same things or hear the same noises, again, a powerful tool for creating a healthy reality. Or, the mightiest tool of all: trial and error. I built an entire business on trial and error. As a matter of fact, I built many businesses on trial and error. I also reshaped my life completely a number of times by trial and error.
Maybe you see somebody right next to you right now, assuming that he or she will be there for a while, but, in fact, the other one doesn’t even know you’re there. Like in you, the real you. They may take you as a temporary replacement for something, as an inner projection or even as a coincidence. Or some furniture from the store. But they actually don’t know you’re there. And, unless you get very open and ask questions and summon the courage for a bit of trial and error, you’ll never know if they see you or not.
Excuse Me, Passing Through
Now, I’m almost half way on my escalator and the woman in front of me is taking all the space, as you already know. I have to admit she looks rather nice from behind. Blond hair, nice shoulders and round hips. Not too round, though.
But, as nice as she may look from behind, I want to move forward. I gently cough and, with a low voice I say:
“Excuse me, passing through”. She turns around (she has a nice smile, by the way) and moves aside.
As I passed her by, I smiled too and, after a second or two, she smiled back. Who knows, maybe will meet again.