Revolutionary Times

Small revolution, big outcome


The daily commute – a trial sent to ruin the day before it starts.

Take the Tube for example. I avoid it at all costs. Not because I hate the idea of being squashed up against other people with less space than is legally required for a cow to be ferried around. Not even because I am a little bit claustrophobic, and getting into a tin can rammed with other beings can send me into a mildly sweaty stew.

My hatred of the Tube is because my stewing experience, along with that of hundreds of others’ having their own ‘stewing’ experience, stops us acting like the decent, intelligent human beings we all are when we get back to ground level.

Charles Leadbeater wrote about the combination of systems and empathy being the foundations for creative genius in his Recipe for London. It’s not just a theory for the development of cities, but for the individuals that make those cities tick. Get the right support and systems in place and be empathetic to those around you – and life unfolds positively.

The great daily commute is the perfect example of how a personal system and empathy FAIL.

Our personal systems go into meltdown at the commute. Overcrowded trains, buses and roads put our routines under huge stress – they don’t create a place where empathy is easily fostered. And in my experience empathy is in very short supply on the daily commute where we become any sort of version or combination of withdrawn, rude, pushy, agitated, aggressive and wholly unreasonable humans.

I once witnessed a genuinely lovely colleague mouthing off at another woman for pushing her in the back – she didn’t stop when the poor victim pointed out a very swollen, pregnant belly. I should probably have intervened, especially because I knew the aggressor. What I did – what everyone else did – was to pretend I hadn’t noticed. Exit one very upset mum-to-be (day ruined) and one very wound-up colleague (day ruined), as well as any number of exasperated commuters who felt bad for not helping and irritated by the atmosphere created (day started badly).

There is little we can realistically do to improve the systems we have in place to get us to work – we can hardly build new railways and bus services ourselves.

However, we can do something about the way we relate and empathize with the people around us – all using the same services we do, for a common purpose.

So here’s a revolutionary idea. I challenge every one of us to commute in a different mindset. Get on that tube, train, bus or tram or into your car with other people in mind. Take your backpack off your shoulder, offer up your seat to someone who doesn’t need it, look someone in the eye and ask them gently to make a little more space, help the woman with the pushchair get on board…support each other and help each other, smile even. Don’t ruin the day before it’s even started.

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