Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I'm going to confess one of my flaws.  When I see people who look lost, or who are transparently lost but trying not to look lost, I feel hostile toward those people.

I'm not proud of it.  It's ridiculous, unkind, and raises my blood pressure completely unnecessarily.  Yet there it is.  I'm sure it's because when I am lost, I feel like everyone is being hostile toward me, and I hate that feeling.  I hate not knowing where I am or how to navigate my surroundings.  My hostility towards those who act as I do in those situations is obviously self-hatred displaced onto them.

What reminded me of this today was a woman in the campus gym who was clearly making her first visit.  She got on the machine next to me, and as always happens, one of the attendants came by to ask if she wanted a fan to be turned her way.  Unfamiliar with the mores of this gym, she stared uncomprehendingly until he repeated the question and gestured toward the fan.  Then, during the rest of my workout, I was distracted when she got off the machine several times to retrieve something from her bag or change its position on the floor.  Finally, before I was finished, she got off the machine and wandered toward the treadmills, standing indecisively next to them as if waiting for an invitation.

Why was I annoyed at this woman?  I was once a first-time visitor to the gym.  I recognized especially the phenomenon of getting on a machine and not really being committed to a workout so much as wanting just to try it out -- I've done it many times.  But I kind of despise myself when I do it.  I imagine that all the people who are serious about their workouts are rolling their eyes at me, and so I put on a show of working hard and knowing what I'm doing, even though I frequently feel like I've gotten in over my head.

When I see people looking at a map on campus, or standing on the sidewalk pointing this way and that as if in search of a certain building, I make a point to ask if I can help them.  I don't feel hostile toward them when I'm in the position to be their benefactor; in fact, I'm grateful to them for giving me a chance to make a good impression for the university and to do a good deed.  But when accepted etiquette does not allow for offering help -- as in the gym, where we are all supposed to be isolated in our workout bubbles -- they anger me.  It's not their fault.  It's clearly my problem.  Hence my confession.

No comments: