Socially Conscious City Walking

April 27, 2023 at 8:00 a.m. Sunny Lucia

Cruise ships are back in Seattle, so congestion rules.

My husband and I were walking toward Pike Place Market when we saw a homeless woman pushing a grocery cart hit a roadblock. Outside a deli were groups of tables and chairs taking up three-quarters of the sidewalk. She couldn’t negotiate this roadblock because on the remaining part of the sidewalk was an abandoned rental scooter. No one at the tables moved to help this woman, so my husband and I cleared a path for her. Even then, no one at the tables moved their chairs an inch to assist the process of her passage. The vacant callousness of a dozen peoples’ inaction was upsetting to witness. The incident made me ask a recurring question. What has happened to human courtesy and the social contract?

I don’t understand why it would be so inconvenient for just one person to interrupt a conversation and help someone. Really not a big deal, it would have taken only a few seconds to move a chair toward the table. What if that woman had been pushing a stroller and not a homeless woman pushing a cart? I fear our society has become so self- and ego-centric that courtesy is a concept and not a behavior.

My regret is that I didn’t look at the table and say something, except it might have been negative and judgmental because I was annoyed. “Too feeble to move your chairs?” and “That was callous” are aggressive statements and would have only clouded a social communication. And it’s not healthy to foment anger in myself much less incite it. We opted to assist rather than confront.

I wonder if I can stop expecting others to do what they wouldn’t want done to them. I wonder what it takes to increase social empathy. Foresight says this type of encounter will happen again, and next time I’m going with “Would you mind moving your chair so this lady can get by?” I’m committing myself to the process of reciprocal influence. Kind communication opens the possibility of constructive give and take. Give what you’d like to get applies to me too.

Sounds like a worthy and doable contribution to a new normal.

Sunny Lucia is a retired health care and corporate training professional who lives with her husband in Seattle.
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