It’s ironic that being in public often encourages us to remain in our own private space. When we ride public transportation, for example, we ignore those around us while waiting on the platform. And once aboard, we focus on our phones, listen to music or simply stare into space, always trying very hard not to make eye contact with the other passengers.
This irony recently motivated an American optimist living in London to encourage social interactions on their subway. He went as far as printing buttons and brochures proclaiming “Tube Chat” and recruited other friendly volunteers to help promote subway conversations. However, the locals were not impressed. London commuters were simply not interested and that’s the last I’ve read of his campaign.
I couldn’t help but think of his failed attempt one evening when I was riding the local subway after work. Most of us boarded the crowded train, tired from a long day and already thinking about the evening ahead. Seated directly across from me was a young woman with an incredibly happy baby girl perched on her lap. Within moments, a middle-aged man several seats down was making silly faces to engage the child. His antics were welcomed by the probably weary mother, as her daughter laughed and clapped, so she began chatting with him. Before long, nearly everyone around the baby was also making faces or smiling at her, or joining in the conversation.
So because of a cute baby, the usual quiet zone rules were disregarded. We humans are naturally social beings, but we learn to be cautious around people we see in temporary circumstances. Even though it would probably make the commute seem shorter, and who knows, maybe introduce us to a new friend or two, as the American in London learned firsthand, our nature is to be private in public.