It is the holiday season and I find myself walking through a lot of crowds. My mind makes the move into the express lane as I begin to notice the flow of people and crowd MOVEMENT dynamics.
Most of the time you don’t notice the dynamics unless something happens to interrupt the flow: like chatters to stop the flow and gather in a lane blocking circle to look into a store window; like the young or the elderly who cannot keep up with the flow and feel the fear of bodies passing them on all sides; like some daring thrill-seeker who attempts to work his way against the flow; or, like the occasional face to face with someone coming in the opposite direction where you mirror each other when you sidestep until one of you finally stops and the other makes their way around you.
Most of the time it is simply amazing to me that we actually MISS each other in all the hustle and bustle of people. Without even consciously thinking about it we can weave our way through a crowd without touching a person, while talking on a cell phone or with a friend next to you, making your way around the slow ones, avoiding the oncoming ones, and kicking it into gear to make a corner on the inside.
I have been observing this walking through crowd dynamics for a while now and I think I am ready for my Master’s Thesis on the personalities involved. Let me give you a few and next time you are in the crowd see if you can pick them out.
The Floater. The Floater floats through the crowd seeming to flit from one small gap to another just in time to push ahead before that gap closes. They seem to be unimpeded by the number of people. You try to follow them but you seem to reach the gap in people just as it closes behind them.
The Brute. The Brute is usually a guy but I have seen female brutes as well. This is the person who makes it through crowds by simple, brute force. Instead of floating through open gaps like the Floater, the Brute busts through small gaps making them wider by shoulder banging the people on each side of it. Rarely do you hear an “excuse me” even though you and he might make eye contact and you end up rubbing your shoulder.
The Gabber. The Gabber gabs. Usually a group of three or more friends who spend their time talking, laughing and looking. Often the Gabbers stop at a store window oblivious to the crowd around them. Or they may simply stop in the middle of the expressway, forcing all the traffic around them as they laugh and gab. Sometimes a Gabber can be a single person who may be on a cell phone that needs to make an important point to the person at the other end of the call and so needs to stop walking and make powerful expressions with the free hand.
The Clueless. The Clueless crowd walkers are the ones who gum up the works by simply disobeying the rules of the road. The rules are similar to driving rules. You MUST walk on the right side of the hallway or mallway. The faster walkers MUST pass closer to the middle but MUST NOT venture into oncoming traffic. If you stop you MUST get out of the way of both oncoming traffic and same lane traffic by going into a store entryway or a dead corner. The Clueless will stop and any time, will drive through oncoming traffic, will pass on the wrong side, or go slow on the wrong side. The Clueless just don’t follow the rules and believe they have no responsibility for the flow of the crowd.
There are more, like the Brood: the mom with kids trying to stick close, speeding up and slowing down depending on the temperament of kids and parents. The Entourage: with one leader and others hanging on his or her every word and comment and struggling to be the one closest to the leader. The Accessorized: Usually women with handbags like suitcases that can take out a whole row of the passing crowd or perfume that causes crowds to push AWAY from her. And many more.
Then there are the rest of us. Sometimes I experiment by being the Brute or the Clueless and just do things wrong to stir of the mix of the dynamic. Most often I walk amazed that things actually happen, that people actually move and that we don’t stand like sheep wondering why we don’t get anywhere. I think that might be part of what it means to be made in God’s image, that built-into-us-ness of progressing through crowds.