Pedestrian traffic

I dipped back into Goffman’s ‘Relations in Public‘ this week, as a tasty little treat between Candy Crush lives. He writes in the preface; ‘Throughout the papers in this volume unsubstantiated assertions are made regarding the occurrence of certain social practices in certain times and among peoples of various kinds.’ Hilarious. The man is a legend.

I love his reflections on how we ‘co-mingle’ in public places. Mostly in an orderly fashion with our ‘use space’ commonly respected and reciprocated. He kicks off with some reflections around how we manage to walk around, often in crowds, without colliding into one another. And how what seems like a random activity – hundreds of people walking along Oxford Street, for example – is ordered and social. We constantly ‘scan’, ‘body check’, exchange ‘critical signs’ to signal a manoeuvre and engage in ‘near-simultaneous parallel adjustments’. We ‘step and slide’ through tacit agreement with others present making an often seamless display of togetherness. We could wrong foot people, or not play by these rules. We could engage in collisions and disruption but tend not to. Why?

The Goffmeister says the gain to be achieved doing this isn’t much, so trust is sustained.

The reason I’ve been revisiting this fantabulous book is because orderliness, manoeuvres and lack of collision are always visible in the photos I snap when I’m out.  Love him.

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The Unit. Day 10

Things have been calm for the last few days. LB’s had daily visits from various people; family, Charlie’s Angels, and friends. Not Tom or Chunky Stan sadly, neither of whom are allowed in (too young or too furry). The staff ask him in advance if he wants to see people and, so far, has said yes to everyone. The cakes have remained in good supply as well as truck/bus magazines, and other treats.

Yesterday afternoon he was lying on his bed, very quiet, after a loud all-night kick off situation that stopped him sleeping. Today it was aunties visiting; Tracey and Sam. We found him in the living room chuckling at Carry on the Revolution. When it finished, he showed T and S round and was quite chatty. They, like most people were surprised (and pleased) that he wasn’t locked in a room, and was able to wander around the unit as he liked. There are lots of very good things like this, including staff and patients eating meals together (if they want to). When we left, LB came with us down the corridor, knocked on the office door and got someone to let us out. Comfortable in the space. And chilled.

I’ve started to re-read Goffman’s Asylums, which takes me back to my undergraduate days. As I’ve banged on about before, I have a total love-in with Goffman’s brilliance. It feels kind of comforting to think of the G-man hanging out in ‘closed communities’, and to reflect on the differences between what he describes and LB’s unit. Differences that partly came about through his work. What a dude.

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A letter to the woman in the restaurant

Dear woman in the restaurant,

We were the people you spent your meal staring at. Or was it glaring? I’m not sure. It was fixed and unwavering which ever it was. And it made the situation so much worse. I’m not going to apologise for LB’s behaviour. He was stressed from the start (getting stuck in the revolving doors on the way in probably didn’t help), but for the most part he managed to keep a lid on it. He muttered to himself a lot, and tensed his body regularly, but only a couple of times did he actually do anything that could have disturbed your meal. Two, possibly three, very brief shout-outs about his fear of Irish lorries being stolen.

As you were staring so hard, you may have noticed that the three of us, Rich, Tom and I, were all working hard to try to keep him calm. There was a lot of talk of the security arrangements at Irish lorry companies and attempts to distract him with a running commentary of the Oxford buses driving past the restaurant. A lot of remedial work, as Erving Goffman, would call it. To be honest, this work was largely try to stop LB experiencing such stress rather than concern about other diners.

I’ve sat in plenty of places and had to listen to other people’s conversations because they talked so loud, I’ve listened to people shouting on mobile phones, sat near parties of people being drunkenly cheerful and excessively noisy. These people don’t get stared at. These behaviours are tolerated.

I’m not sure what you were hoping to achieve with your staring. To let us know some social rules were being broken? To let us know that young people like LB are not welcome in public places? Or to demonstrate that your meal was ruined? The latter would be peculiar. You were sitting far enough away not to look at him, and, as I said, other than the quick shouts, he was pretty quiet.

It was my birthday lunch. I wanted LB to be there (obviously), and don’t think it is (or should be) a big ask for you to just get on with your meal and ignore the odd disruption. Anyway, we got the bill before we’d finished our main course. And left. Staring, or glaring, like that, can sometimes make a difficult situation unmanageable.

Maybe next time, you could just take a few seconds to try to imagine what it must be like to  experience that distress, or have to try to manage it. It ain’t rocket science, it’s that thing known as empathy.

Yours,

Sara