By Hannah

I always find this strange sense of commonality when I am packed into a bustling subway car with hundreds of other people. Don’t get me wrong here – I in no way doubt it is a sweaty, smelly and cramped environment. I also do not doubt  a cramped subway car has the capacity to be an incredibly beautiful experience, if you let it.

Next time you find yourself in a situation such as this, instead of resigning to your natural response of frustration – contemplate who you are sharing your space with. It is truly incredible to imagine the people around you complexly. The woman who is being short with her child may be a single mother who has just been laid off work, and has been up all night looking for jobs. The man across from you who keeps wiping the sweat from his brow may have recently lost the love of his life, and this is his first time going through this simple daily motion since her passing. Or that young girl who keeps bouncing up and down may just have gotten into university, and just can’t keep her excitement in. It’s easy to get annoyed by these people at first, but it’s more rewarding to think about them in a more thorough way.

People on a crowded subway

Finding humanity in a usually-disconnected situation such as this is important when we are in a physically or mentally uncomfortable environment. The subway is one of the few places where humans are simultaneously immensely connected to and disconnected from one another. At rush hour, it is also uncomfortable, so your negative opinions of others and entitlement to the space around you is strong. It becomes easy to blame them for invading your space, and not to contemplate the notion it may be you who is invading their space. This natural “me vs. them” mentality causes us to elevate our experience above everyone else on the ride – everyone else who is equally as annoyed and uncomfortable as we are.

There’s an element of freedom in contemplating others’ stories with the same complexity you naturally see your own. Inherently, this is difficult in the beginning. The only emotions you ever truly feel are yours; how you perceive others is bound to be affected by the experiences you’ve been through. Empathy during rush hour on the subway, empathy in a long line at the grocery store, and any kind of empathy with the people surrounding you allows for a more complete and rewarding experience of humanity. At least so I have found through my experiences of rush hour on the subway.

This post was inspired by one of my favourite writers, David Foster Wallace. (Listen to or read the speech that inspired it.)

Do you ever have moments of reflection in chaotic situations? What are some of the things you notice? Let us know on our Facebook page!