A week ago, as I cursed the CityMapper app for lying to me about when my bus would arrive, a banal and yet pervasive intuition swept over me as I realised my frustrations with urban life.
Newsflash: there is very little that I am actually in control of.
It doesn’t matter that CityMapper has been saying that the 91 bus will arrive in 2 minutes for the past 15 – sometimes buses get stuck and I should deal with it.
It doesn’t matter that I tried, for hours, to force myself to be in a good mood before going to that party and, once I arrived, realised I would have much rather socialised with the tub of ice cream in my freezer. I cannot fully control my mood and state of mind on any given day – not even upon command.
It doesn’t matter if I always give evils to the “leering loiterers” close to my flat who were there when I returned from that party. No matter the amount of freezing stare-downs I give them, they always hang out in the same spot.
It was the kind of whooshing moment when all other nagging thoughts melted away, and all of a sudden, I was filled with an odd and pervading sense of serenity. We all spend so much time trying to control our surroundings; the environment we thrive in; the way the shopkeeper, our colleagues and the people we love think of us. Yet very little comes of our meddling.
Hold on though. Yes, the outside world is complex, unpredictable and sometimes near intractable. But Newsflash #2, there is one thing that is almost completely within our control: the way we choose to relate to others. And in my epiphany-inebriated mind, it occurred to me that the best way to go about that might be by adding a little human decency and empathy to our lives.
Hear me out for a second here: despite the cheesiness, the implications of this are fairly immense. I sometimes wonder what passes through the creepy guys’ heads when they are undressing a girl with their looks. What is it exactly that makes them think that she appreciates being looked at like an inanimate object? Those looks – and the obscene words on the street – only have the effect of stripping a human being of the feeling that they have a right to decide when, and with whom, they can have an interaction of any type. In other words, those looks and those words imply that the ‘hot’ girl is less worthy of dignity, or that she might even be regarded as a lesser human being.
Yet the optimist in me carries on believing that if we all started to actively control our interactions in a positive way, the issue of creepy stares – amongst others – would at least be alleviated. Granting someone the dignity they deserve is not a magical cure, but it certainly would improve the quality of life of many girls – and their evenings.
In the context of gender inequality, I do not think that advocating dignity should be a one-way street, merely from men to women. Quite the opposite: I am prone to believing that gender stereotypes disfavour both women and men. Most of us are quite wrapped up in our ‘socially constructed’ armour which, for women, often tends to translate into insecurity about appearance and intelligence but also about their physical safety. On the other hand, the macho and closed-off model is one that many men are confronted with.
In 2012, 4,590 men in the UK committed suicide. That is almost four times the number of women who took their own lives that same year. Now try and tell me that the fact that lots of men are discouraged from opening up is not a key factor behind these numbers. I believe that the simple action of granting others the dignity, respect and empathy they deserve could vastly improve our social situation: how comfortable we feel about opening up; how comfortable we feel walking down an empty street at night; how comfortable we feel in having a relationship with whomever we want, whenever we chose.
On a personal level, I believe that people exerting a positive control over how they relate to others would eventually allow me to feel comfortable when I’m out alone in the evenings – even on a night bus at 3am, and even if I choose to wear ‘that dress.’ Last, but by no means least, positive control over how we conduct ourselves would allow me (and many others, I’m sure) to feel comfortable to chose the tub of ice cream over the party every once in a while.
Despite my enthusiasm, I’m aware that the granting of dignity and empathy is not some ground-breaking epiphany or revolutionary gender theory. It’s just a question of basic humanity, really. But as far as I’m concerned, I shall carry on proclaiming my newsflashes with undying exuberance at least until I stop questioning whether or not I should wear ‘that dress’ before leaving my flat.