Lazy Luddite Log

25.2.15

I Think They Think

Most of us imagine what others are thinking of us. Some of us also sometimes imagine what others imagine we are thinking of them. I did this recently while on an almost deserted train carriage one evening. I had been sitting in one set of seats alone. Another person was likewise sitting alone in the set of seats behind me. I had got on the train after them so as I sat down I think we both had a chance to look at each other. After a few stops however I stood up and went across and along the carriage to another set of seats a short distance away. As I did this I got to wondering how they had interpreted my action. This is the content of my wild speculation.

Had I moved because there was something the matter with them personally? That person could have then wondered if they smelled. Or what if I had decided I had some problem with who they were in terms of observed characteristics? In various ways we were different and by most assessments I belong to more advantaged demographics they they do (within an Australian context anyway). What if they had just become the target of silent prejudice? If this is something they have experienced in the past then they may have been conditioned to expect such conduct.

Now you never can tell but then we rarely if ever confirm our suspicions - we tend to let them take on a life of their own. My action of moving to another part of the carriage may well have set off a host of difficult and disturbed emotions in that other person. And they will never know what my true motive was. But I can tell you.

I moved to a more empty part of the carriage because I was about to fart.

Now there is every possibility that the other person was living a rich internal life of memory and musing and that I had barely if at all impinged on that. They may well have known that everyone has all sorts of different motives and dismissed my action out-of-hand. I hope so. However I'm also aware that sometimes we are prone to interpret offence in all manner of observed behaviours. And knowing that I should possibly have behaved differently. I hardly want to contribute to someone feeling marginalized.

I could have just stayed put and farted. This is just one of the risks a person takes by using public transport and they would have coped. On the other hand I'm aware that tiny things like that can be regarded as a huge affront that will result in some flustered venting online later than same evening. I would suddenly be that rude bogan who fluffed rather than walking away. It seems in the world of perceptions we are damned if we do and damned if we don't.

Far too late I devised an action that would have spared my fellow commuter both actual discomfort and imagined offence. I could have temporarily walked over to a train network map on the wall a short distance away and pretended to consult it before returning to my seat. Perfect! Only someone with a ludicrous attachment to the virtue of truth would have a problem with this and what they don't know won't hurt them.

There are also those reading this who will say that I just think and worry too much. Stay put and fart. Move to another seat and risk making the other person self-conscious. Pretend to consult a map. Who cares? In the grand scheme of things none of these things seem to matter much. But I do like to minimise harm and maximise help as I move through life. Furthermore I get the impression that this sort of thing does matter to many.

They were most likely thinking of anything but me right? Right.

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