Subway Rage

by Glynnis McDonnell, M.A.

I’m sure any New Yorker would agree that riding the subway provides a slew of opportunities for our irrational beliefs to creep to the surface. While I’ve had many of these experiences, there is a recent one that continued to irk me for a few days after its occurrence, clearly a sign of irrational beliefs that could use some work.

I was on the subway late on a Friday night, and it was pretty crowded. The man standing next to me was taking up a sizeable amount of space, but I didn’t mind at first because I had enough space to stand comfortably. Then it started…..he kept kicking his foot into mine, seemingly expecting me to move to make more room for him. Due to a recent resolution to stop allowing others to take over my space at the expense of my comfort (except, of course, when it is so crowded that no one can be comfortable), I did not move my foot. I spent the next 10 minutes with the man next to me regularly kicking my foot and sighing a bit when I refused to move. That is when my annoyance started. (Although, if I’m being completely honest, I was also getting some satisfaction from standing my ground.)

Eventually, we were pulling into the man’s stop. He decided he had to get to the door before the train had even pulled into the station, so he suddenly shoved me out of his way with no warning, offering a flimsy “excuse me” AFTER he had pushed his way through. (Maybe I’m biased, but it didn’t sound like an apologetic “excuse me.” It was the kind of “excuse me” you say so that someone will move, thus eliminating the potential need to push them out of the way…..except it was too late for that.) I happened to not be holding onto the pole at the time because I have very good balance, and generally prefer not to hold onto the filthy poles unless I am on a subway line that has a ton of sharp curves along the way. Therefore, I almost fell backwards when pushed. The man then turned to me with a smirk and said in a sickeningly sweet voice, “You should really hold on,” before running off the train.

I felt like my head was going to explode from rage. I thought, “Who does this [insert expletive here] think he is?!” He spent the entire ride kicking me because he seemed to think he was entitled to more space than I was. He then shoved me with no warning and had the audacity to make a snarky comment when I almost fell? True, I was not holding the pole…but I would have been just fine had I not been suddenly pushed. Who is this man to dictate to me, a subway rider of 30 years, how to ride the subway? WHAT. A. JERK.

I am definitely dealing with a case of what Dr. Ellis would call “other downing.” I am having a hard time getting past the idea that a man who behaved to rudely toward me could be anything but a jerk. Thankfully, this memory has faded a bit from my mind and I have gotten over it- likely because I will probably never see this man again and I have no real investment in convincing myself that he is not a jerk. However, if I continued to be irked by this occurrence or had some other reason to be invested in changing my beliefs about this man (e.g., an ongoing relationship of some sort that would be hindered by my belief), I would definitely need to do some work to remind myself to judge his behavior as bad but not him as an entirely bad person.

Glynnis McDonnell, M.A.


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