I was on a trip to Manitoba for some meetings. I was staying in a hotel for the night, and several times as I came and went from my room, I crossed paths with another guest at the hotel. Whenever we found ourselves walking in opposite directions on the same path, he jumped out of the way in a very animated fashion. Once we approached a glass door from opposite sides at almost the same time. He ran and jumped ahead to grab the door, then held his head down low as he gestured for me to walk by. There was something about his mannerisms that I found fascinating, but I couldn’t put my finger on it then, so we passed each other in silence
Now I wish I would have struck up a conversation. He reminded me of myself.
As a teenager I grew up in VERY rural small-town Alberta. Going to the big city was exciting, and we were privileged to not just go to any mall, but to the biggest mall in the country—the West Edmonton Mall. Back then it was the largest mall in the world. It was always so exciting to meander the many corridors and see the flashy signs for sales. It was fun to buy some new clothes, have a meal, see a movie, and even play mini-golf without ever going back outside. There were so many people from so many different countries, and it was one place where I learned to understand that Canada truly has a diverse population, though our small town was rather homogeneous.
In my early teens I found it hard to walk in a mall. I so badly didn’t want to get in anyone’s way and didn’t understand how to navigate those hallways with so many people in them. I remember walking like that man from my hotel, darting back and forth, literally jumping out of one person’s way, only to find myself standing in someone else’s way.
Unlike the many stereotypes about teenagers that say they act without thinking, I began thinking hard about how to walk. I started watching those around me, to see how everyone else seemed to get by with ease. I noticed three kinds of walkers.
- There were very few like me, but they were there: people who darted back and forth, zigging and zagging their way through. They jumped out of peoples way, and looked as twitchy as a wet squirrel at a bird feeder. This is not how I wanted to walk. It was exhausting.
- Then there were those who walked around like they owned the place. They would choose a path and nothing would stop them. For the most part, everyone seemed to move out of their way. When someone wouldn’t, they would bump into them, which would earn them a harsh glare and the other party would apologize quickly. This seemed so arrogant and selfish to me.
- Then there was most everyone else, who more or less walked in a straight line, and when their path was at odds with someone else, both of them would make only a slight adjustment and so pass by each other with their personal space bubble unscathed.
While I disliked the apparent pride of those who walked around like they owned the place, part of me secretly desired to be like that, everyone moving out of my way to let me through. But I did not have nearly enough confidence at that point to do that, and since I was put off by their rooster-like displays, I thought it best not to try and emulate them.
Instead I tried emulating most everyone else, who seemed so relaxed and made simple adjustments to their direction without darting around. It required being aware of those around me, but allowed me to walk in a more relaxed way. It was amazing. I only needed to move a foot or two at almost and without fail the other person would also move!
I didn’t understand why this worked, all I knew was that it did. At first it was hard to get away from the old way of walking. I did my best to mask my fear of bumping into people, and walk with a calm but confident face and demeanour. It didn’t take long at all, and I managed to walk through the mall without incident and without getting so tired.
So what does this have to do with anything?
Well, how different people walk in the mall is very similar to how we walk in life:
- Some people are so scared of harming anyone that they make drastic decisions that harm themselves, and often end up unintentionally doing harm to others as well.
- Others live as if they are the kings and queens of the world, expecting everyone else to bow to their whims and expectations.
- Others walk in a healthy balance: they recognize their own value as a human being, while also recognizing the value of others. They do their part to avoid a conflict, and allow and expect others to also do their own work to make things run smoothly.
Just as I learned to walk in a mall, so I learned to walk in this world. I learned that I have value and that my life is worth just as much as everyone else. I am not worthless! But others are also valuable, and so by working together we can make things work.
As we walk in this world we should not feel like it is our duty to do the work of everyone else. We all have a right to live in and enjoy God’s good earth, so don’t feel like you are worthless or unworthy. But neither are we to put down others or take from others so that we can selfishly live as if we are the only ones that matter. Let us recognize the image of God in ourselves, and let us recognize the image of God in others. Let us walk confidently, knowing that God made us for a reason, but let us also walk humbly recognizing that we are each only one person in a world full of people.
…And in case you are wondering, after awhile I did experiment with projecting as much confidence as I could and walk in a straight line, to see if others would move completely out of my way. And it worked. But I didn’t want to be a jerk, so gave up on that almost as soon as I tried it.