God is my Director

Youth ministry, movies, no drugs and a variable amount of Rock ‘n Roll

Grumbling community

Posted by Martin on March 1, 2007

No-one ever talks to each other on British public transport. We’ve perfected our famed ‘thousand-yard stare’ for precisely this sort of anti-social situation. Despite the intense possibilities for human interaction – after all, we’re all sitting there with nothing to do – we sit in silence; the community that wasn’t. But today, I saw a glimpse of what life could be like if we weren’t so… British.

My train was stopped, cancelled and emptied two stops from home. It was too far to walk, and since I wasn’t carrying enough gold bullion to pay for a London taxi, I had to rely on the advertised ‘replacement bus service.’ This is a hastily-arranged double-decker, which takes passengers to the relevant stations by roads instead.

The timetable for this service had been worked out by some bureaucratic genius somewhere, who’d decided that the buses should leave at the same times as the trains were due to do so. Only thing was, that meant we had no time to run from the railway platform to the bus stop. Consequently, we all looked on in frustration as our bus pulled away without us – completely empty.

Communally annoyed, we piled on to the next bus, which was due to leave half an hour later. Then, after another twenty minutes, the driver announced that he’d received orders to wait, not only for the next set of passengers, but the one after that too! In total, we were sitting on that bus, stationary as it were, for almost an hour. But that presented an interesting challenge to the thousand-yarders who packed the vehicle.

For a while, we all held out: noses in books, ears locked to iPods. But after about ten minutes, another traditionally British quirk kicked in – grumbling. One by one, the people on the bus began to moan to each other. There wasn’t much content – just general anger that we’d been made to wait all this time because of what was essentially a small technical fault on a train somewhere.

What happened though, once the conversational barriers had at last been pierced, was that the bus suddenly turned into a hive of discussion. Almost everyone was asking a total stranger: ‘where do you live?’, ‘what do you do?’, and ‘are those real?’ (Seriously, there was a guy on there with a box full of baby gerbils. Why, what did you think I meant?)

Thanks to the slightly aggravating circumstance, community had broken out. I talked to people I’ve been travelling to and from work with for the last three years, for the very first time. Next time I see one of them, I’m determined not to stare into the distance like I used to.

I got home eventually, but what happened made me think. Why does it take something negative to make a latent community spring into life. We weren’t intended to go though life alone, and yet when everything is going to plan, we choose the monotone path of head-in-book (or perhaps, sand). A question then that doesn’t yet have an answer: how do I help the people around me to see that they’re in community for a reason, and if they stop opting out, they might even enjoy and understand their humanity more? As ever, the change starts with me. For what it’s worth, I’m committing to live counter-thousand-yard-culture from now on.

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One Response to “Grumbling community”

  1. Amanda said

    Baby Daniel has helped me with this… he is yet to learn that it is rude to stare on public transport and stares and smiles at strangers. And who can resist smiling back at a gorgeous baby? Also, I rely on the kindness of strangers when I take the Tube and Daniel’s in his pram… and someone always volunteers to help me with the steps! Babies – the perfect way to build community!

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