The Swarm

by Glynnis McDonnell, M.A.

I commute by Metro North several days a week.  Today, like every other day that I take Metro North, I felt my blood pressure start to rise as the train came around the bend and pulled into the station.  Once the train comes into view each day, the platform begins to swarm- all the passengers on the platform start to crunch together, everyone vying to get as close to the door as possible.  Elbows are thrown, bags are swung into fellow passengers, and if you’re not at the very back of the group, there is a constant pressure pushing you closer to the train as you try not to fall into the notorious “gap.”  Not to mention, there’s always that one person who gets to the platform at the last second and seems to think they are entitled to cut in front of everyone else.

As crazy as it sounds, I can wrap my mind around this kind of behavior on the subway.  If you’re not assertive on a rush-hour subway platform you won’t make it onto the train…but this is Metro North!  There is more than enough room for everyone, and we all make it onto the train every time, without fail.  While I feel the swarm begin to buzz around me on the platform, I find myself thinking, “Why are people so rude?  They should really be more courteous!”  As I think about how the other Metro North passengers should behave more courteously, I find myself becoming angry.

Then I stop and ask myself what good it is doing to focus on these thoughts.  The answer?  NONE!  Though I have indulged in silent fury on that platform time and time again, it has never changed the competitive dynamic that exists at my morning train platform.  On top of that, I’m causing myself distress by giving into irrational beliefs about how the other passengers should behave.  First, it is irrational to label people as rude because they engage in one particular rude behavior.  Unnecessarily jockeying to get on the train first doesn’t mean that my fellow passengers are all bad; they likely have many other positive qualities.  Second, there is no reason why people HAVE to show courtesy when getting on the train.  Sure, it would probably be better if they did, but there is no law of physics dictating that it must be so.

Thinking more rationally about the swarm of people at my train station would probably help me replace my morning commuting anger with morning commuting annoyance, but if I’m being honest, my new, rational beliefs could still use some rehearsal.  I guess it’s a good thing that the swarm is unlikely to change anytime soon, giving me lots of opportunities to practice!

Glynnis McDonnell, M.A.

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