Let’s talk about the fine line we walk these days between creepy and kind. This is tied to an occurrence from today, so just bare with me for a sec.
Fact 1: As a society, we are far less kind than we used to be. No one holds the door for you anymore, people avoid eye contact and generally act as if you are not a real human person that cannot help but take up space rather than a nuisance that is between them and their destination.
Fact 2: We are much more aware of the creepy, horrible, strange things that people can do to each other than we used to be, thus we are more wary of strangers. We talk to our neighbors less. We generally don’t ask for help from people we don’t know, or put ourselves in compromising situations. That is, if you’re smart you don’t.
Now, in the past I’ve reblogged/Tumbld/shared articles about women being mistreated by men in public spaces, because if we’re doing something as sexy and provocative as walking down the street and we don’t stop to talk to you every time you catcall at us, we’re obviously bitches. These catcalling social butterflies generally don’t expect men or women they deem unattractive to give them their attention on the street, though for some reason they seem to think a pretty girl walking down the street is a public object to be enjoyed, rather than a person attempting to live out their day. I could go on, but it would generally be angry.
It is with this prior experience that I walked down Arch Street in a rain today, without an umbrella, because I’m terrible at using them. There is a construction site next to my office, which means there are usually construction workers all over the place, on any given day. Any other day, they will ignore me and go about their business.
Today, there was a large group of them standing around across the street from my office. Maybe they were new. Either way, they watched me walk down the street toward them and began laughing to themselves. I can’t even begin to guess why, but it was clear that they were paying attention to me, and I inwardly braced myself.
Then, oddly, one of them broke away from the pack (honestly, they were grouped together like high school girls) with an umbrella and immediately began walking with me. “I got you, where you going?”
I was bewildered and obviously wary of this act of kindness, but I let him walk me across the street to my office door and I thanked him. He replied, “No problem, I just need to show these young guys the way to be.” One check in the column for kindness; I mentally rejoiced. However, when we got to my office door – which thankfully, is pin-pad access only – he followed it up with, “Now can I get your number?”
Sigh. And yet another check in the creep column, but I bid him farewell, he laughed it off, and we parted ways. He was probably kidding (I’m very much hoping) but it still dampened my appreciation of this random act of kindness. I don’t want to have to believe that there’s always an ulterior motive for chivalry; in fact, I’d very much like to believe that kindness can be a motivator. That he really WAS trying to teach the younger men among their group how to behave. Maybe I can just carry that belief and ignore my larger cynicism. Maybe an instance so small is not worth analyzing. But then again, maybe how we treat strangers on the street in the smallest ways are the ONLY instances worth analyzing, because how else are you representing yourself to the world? It’s easy to be kind to people you care about, or people you know through friends, or people you are 100% sure aren’t trying to murder you and then wear your skin or something.
I told myself earlier this year that I would work harder to be kind to strangers, because I easily get caught up in my own stuff when I’m out and about by myself. And I’ve improved in little ways. I offer my seat on the train to basically everyone, I try to let people go ahead of me, I don’t block the doors. (I could write a book on subway etiquette at this point.) But I can’t help but feel sad about some of the things I see. Like one man, irrationally angry at his train being late, cursing out load to everyone around him about SEPTA while there are children around, hitting things and making EVERYONE around him uncomfortable. Meanwhile, if he really wanted to catch his train to New Jersey he probably could have walked there in the time he spent standing on the train and fuming.
I guess I have a hard time not analyzing behavior I see. I wonder what kinds of things people see when look at me out on the street. Do I look mean? Do I have, as they say, “chronic bitchface” even when I’m not upset? Sometimes I feel like I might. I try to smile at people, say “thank you” and “excuse me” out loud, but it often feels like yelling into a void.
Does anyone else have experiences like these they weren’t sure how to interpret? Thoughts like these when they’re out in the world? I realize living in the 5th largest city in the country (d’aw, Philly, you so cute) lends an urban-centered light to this argument, but I had similar uncomfortable experiences in the suburbs. Corkie might remember the time two randoms came up to us in a Starbucks and sat down like we had been waiting for them to get there, immediately demanding our names. Corkie easily started chatting with them and gave them her name; I said nothing and when asked my name, responded with “Vicki,” in the least-friendly tone I could muster. So maybe I’m the bitch. Maybe I’m just more skeptical.
What do you guys think?