I recently read the new book “In Praise of Walking” by neuroscientist Shane O’Mara and came across a term that I never heard of before: Sidewalk rage.
As Leon James explains in an academic article, sidewalk rage is the feeling of stress and rage that occurs in pedestrians when they are walking in busy areas of a city and their personal space is invaded by another pedestrian.
I personally am a fast walker and have kept my marching pace from my days in the military. Thus, I tend to walk faster than most people in the streets because, you know, I got stuff to do and places to go. As such, I often suffer from sidewalk rage when people cut me off or are just in my way. In these situations, I experience what is called active-aggressive sidewalk rage.
But not everybody is a fast walker, others are slow walkers or like to amble around. These people, or d*ckhead devils to give them their full title, typically engage in practices like (adapted from Leon James’ article):
Stopping suddenly and unexpectedly, requiring those immediately behind to initiate risky and stressful collision avoidance procedures.
Walking shoulder to shoulder with companions, forcing those behind to slow down and wait.
Sitting on the pavement against a wall with legs extended, forcing walkers to step over or go around them.
Walking much slower than others while talking on a cell phone, reading, or dawdling and gawking without showing awareness of the ongoing traffic movement dynamic.
After the show in a theatre standing in the aisle putting on the coat and ignoring others who want to pass.
And when reasonable people like me then righteously push them aside to assert our God-given superiority, they experience what is called passive-aggressive sidewalk rage.
The thing about sidewalk rage is that either party typically does not express their rage openly because we shy away from conflict. Unlike in a car, where the windshield creates an artificial barrier that shields us from the reactions of our fellow citizens we are forced to swallow our anger and silently, or sometimes not so silently, tut at them.
But internalizing rage and stress is not healthy and leads to a decline of social cohesion or in the worst-case hatred of your fellow citizens. Thus, sidewalk rage is a positive danger to us and our society, especially in big cities. No wonder that Leon James concludes his article with the sentence:
“People who suffer from walking rage may need professional counseling.”
Which makes me wonder why nobody has ever weaponized sidewalk rage. I live in London, a city that is frequently the target of terrorist attacks. The ostensible goal of terrorist attacks is to spread fear and undermine the social cohesion of people living in that place. But whenever there is an explosion or an attack on innocent people in this city, the exact opposite happens. We all pull together, because, well, we are Londoners. And we are not scared that easily.
However, there are circumstances when every Londoner I know will totally lose it. Based on these experiences, I suggest terrorists to do the following:
Take ten of your mates and send them into tube stations at rush hour. Their job is to stand on the left-hand side of the escalator and continuously ride the escalator up and down, blocking everyone behind them.
Take another ten of your mates, tell them to pack the biggest backpacks they can find and board busy tube lines at rush hour (I suggest the Piccadilly line, the Victoria line, and the Circle line). Stand close to one of the doors on each train, refuse to move into the aisle and turn around frequently, knocking your heavy backpack into fellow travelers.
Finally, take another ten of your mates, and put them on trains and busses. Let them ride on the bus while talking loudly into their smartphones and not moving for any other passengers. Good topics for conversation are any sexually transmitted diseases you might want to discuss with your doctor, how you love Jeremy Corbyn (particularly effective when riding in the City of London), or how you want people to just get on with Brexit (everywhere in London).
I promise you, if you do this for two to three hours, there will be rioting in the streets and we will burn down London.