Using public transportation to and from New York City each day has given me ample opportunity to observe a wide variety of human behavior. It has also allowed me to build up a surprising amount of angst towards particular behavior that seems to be repeated over and over.
The following list encompasses some of the more egregious commuting offenses, and refers to “that guy”. Before the men in the audience get offended, “that guy” includes women in this context. Ok, here we go:
- The guy that has to be first on the train, only to nab his spot directly in front of the doors. Okaaay. So you pushed to the front of the platform so that you could stand in the way. Why not just be the last one on? Novel idea.
- The guy that stands in the doorway when people are trying to get on or off. Rage. STEP OFF or MOVE IN. Nobody can get by you and you’re holding up the whole train because you can’t give up your precious door spot.
- The guy that stands against the pole meant for multiple people to hold on to. Are you comfortable? Well, thank goodness for that because my flailing wildly on a moving train is worth your comfort.
- The guy that won’t move in when there is clearly space in the middle of the train. “But I’m getting off next.” Oh, ok cool. I’ll just crawl under your legs to get to the middle of the car.
- The guy that talks loudly on his cell phone. This is a commuter train thing, but gets me every time. Business deal? Sigh. Boyfriend trouble? Sorry, but no. Just catching up? No, no, NO!
It got to the point where I was peeved before I even started my commute each day, knowing what I was about to face. I had to wonder. Why was I getting so worked up? Why does this behavior bother me so much? Then it dawned on me. I was spending all day trying to teach kids how NOT to be that guy, and I started and ended my day dealing with adults who are.
So, who is “that guy”? He is the person who puts himself and his needs above the common good.
In an elementary school classroom, there are few resources that are not shared. Kids are thrown into an environment in which they are within inches of at least three other bodies at all times. With so much going on, and so many people in one small space, it becomes imperative that each student understands the importance of his or her role in keeping things running smoothly. Do you know what it’s like when 25 chairs don’t get pushed in? Or if even half of the class forgets to (or doesn’t feel the need to) clean up after a snack? Or if only five kids forget to raise their hands? It takes constant, and I mean constant, encouragement, modeling, and reminding, but eventually most kids get into a solid routine of maintaining a neat and orderly classroom environment. Meaning, they begin to realize that, in school, one often has to put the good of the class community above one’s own immediate desires.
In school, kids can directly see the effects of their carelessness or selfishness on the people and environment around them. Once outside of school, however, that cause and effect becomes less obvious.
So how do we keep kids from growing up to be “that guy”? Well, again, I’m not totally sure, but I have some ideas. I think it will take the same kind of constancy in modeling, encouraging, and reminding outside of the classroom as it does inside. The school in which I spent my last three years is very big on field trips. So, in keeping with the subway setting, here is how we prepare classes of elementary kids for a subway ride, with the goal of not sending the other passengers fleeing in a panic. The following are steps that I take to prepare kids for most things, from cleaning up to how to treat others kindly. The big idea? You’re not the only person here, nor are you the most important. Stated in a kid-friendly, loving and supportive way, of course, but that’s the gist.
1. Acknowledge the reality of being a kid
Kids are self-centered. This is developmentally appropriate, and expected. That doesn’t mean they should stay that way. Acknowledging their tendency to think only of themselves (with a little humor), gets them to start to think outside of themselves.
That sounds something like, Picture us waiting on the platform. The train arrives, the doors open, and what are you going WANT to do? Most kids can actually acknowledge that they’re going to want to run onto the train to find a seat. Ok, you’ve found a seat. How are you going to sound? Again, many will say that they’ll probably be very loud. I’m always surprised with their self-awareness when given the opportunity to stop and think.
I’ve also found that it’s ok to be honest about the consequences of acting in such a way. People are not going to want to be around us if we behave in this way. You’ll see people changing cars, you might even hear somebody say, “Oh no.” That’s not what we want.
2. Establish what it should look and sound like
Next, we discuss what we should actually do and make a list of the steps. This is so key. When kids know what, exactly, is expected of them, they can often rise to the occasion.
- The train arrives and we stand back
- We let people off, without creeping towards the doors
- We calmly WALK onto the car, without pushing
- We look for seats, but if there aren’t any, we hold onto a pole
- We talk quietly to someone near us or take out our clipboard and draw
3. Act out what it should look and sound like
This makes sense with a class. I’m not sure how well it translates, or how necessary it might be with kids at home, but you never know! It could be helpful, and the kids think it’s fun to pretend.
So far, this might sound like too much to do. I would consider it an investment in your sanity. It’s staggering the difference in behavior when kids have mentally prepared for a situation that could easily be overwhelming and chaotic.
4. When the time comes, continue with reminders
Ok, so the train is coming. Remember that we’re letting passengers off first.
5. Point out the people around them
- Do you see how the man across from you is reading? I’m sure he appreciates that you’re speaking in a soft voice.
- Some people are listening to music. If you were speaking loudly, they wouldn’t be able to hear.
- That man moved. Why do you think? Oh, you bumped him with your backpack? That’s ok, just be aware of your space next time.
6. Acknowledge when somebody does something kind, courteous, or in any way puts the needs of others before him or herself.
- Oh, look! That man just offered his seat to somebody with a lot of bags. How kind.
- Did you see how that woman moved into the car when she saw how many people were waiting to get on?
- Wow. Little Johnny just moved his backpack so somebody could sit down.
These last steps are so important. If we’re not pointing out what’s happening around them, the kids will remain in their own worlds and will not begin to consider that there are other people around them with their own sets of needs. More importantly, they won’t become empowered to try to put the needs of others and the common good, before their own.
Is this a perfect system? Of course not. Rest assured, every time, there are kids who push their way onto the subway car. They need to be reminded to keep their voices down. They’re kids! Over time, however, they truly begin to step outside of themselves, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.
I tend to think that being selfish is what comes more naturally to human beings, and sometimes it’s necessary to be selfish. But if we could work as a whole to become more aware of those around us, the world would be much more pleasant. Maybe if, as a child, “that guy” had adults in his life pointing out that other people exist in the world around him, he would MOVE INTO THE CAR ALREADY!