October 29, 2013

GUEST ROOM: Walk this Way

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It is strange to feel like there is a need for a column that teaches the intelligent and careful members of Cornell’s student body to better perform an elementary task.  Thus, I pondered this piece for weeks. Each time it came to mind again, it was due to some fresh unpleasantness I encountered while navigating campus. But, as is often the case with small slights and busy days, something would distract me from the annoyance and then it would be forgotten and this unwritten.

Yesterday, however, fortune favored complaint. I had on my person the tools for writing and I was presented with an offense to pleasantness so stark that motivation was in ready supply.

Arriving at Olin Café for an espresso, I reached out and opened the double door on the right. The door fully opened, I stepped forward to pass through it. Moving with speed that would shame a cheetah, a girl barely tall enough to be allowed onto a rollercoaster pushed past me and into the library.

There are two appropriate approaches to this situation from her point of view. She can think either: a) This chump has opened the door for himself and I am going to take advantage of his labor, but I will ameliorate the rudeness of my parasitism with a smile and an “excuse me” or b) this chump is exhibiting chivalry which I will presently take advantage of and thank him with a larger smile and a “thank you.” Yet, this underclassman could find within herself the soul required for either possibility. Neither meeting my eye nor uttering a word, she treated me like some deterministic physical process that reliably opens doors. She paid me no more interest than one gives to gravity or friction while walking.

One remembers the famous civil rights slogan: “I am a man. ” Shylock’s shouted, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” In a just world, she would have presently encountered a banana peel and fallen on her yoga-panted rear. Sadly, as we all learn when we’re young, the world is not fair.

Traveling our campus, one is confronted daily with apparently sane students who have no notion of how to move about the world without inconveniencing others. Ignorant of their poor performance, no sense of shame that might bring from them a verbal excuse or acknowledgment of their awkwardness arises. These silent golems of rudeness prowl about, some with faces lit by phones away from which they cannot look, and morosely disrupt the clean movements and pleasant atmosphere of the campus.

When one sees a problem, one must endeavor to produce a solution. Here is a guide on how to properly move. It would be foolish to presume that our kind readers need such advice. As they have already demonstrated their good sense by enjoying this fine paper, I will not insult them by presuming that they are ignorant of how to walk. Instead, let this be a tool for our readers to give to their less sensible friends. Perhaps the wisdom contained here will percolate through the collective consciousness of Cornell, affecting even the illiterate.

Rule 1: Walk on the right. Treat yourself like a finely built automobile driving the highways of America and keep to the right. This applies to sidewalks, hallways and the entrances of buildings.The reason that the buildings on campus bear double doors is so that the door on the right can allow entry while the door on the left allows egress. Defiance of this rule is the reason so many classrooms take an eternity to empty and refill.

Rule 2: When stopping to converse with a friend or to check one’s phone, move off of the sidewalk and away from entryways. This elementary bit of good sense is most often defied in those areas of our campus that are the busiest. At lunchtime in Willard Straight, one can view dozens of people struggling to get around groups in conversation at the top of the stairs leading to Okenshields and the Ivy Room. I write for the hungry masses: Get out of the way.

Rule 3: When walking in a group down a hallway or sidewalk, share the space with those traveling in the opposite direction or walking faster than you. Do not walk in a horizontal line blocking the path, but rather in a group no wider than two. When walking slowly, move to the far right of the sidewalk or hallway to allow others to pass you. Ladies in absurd shoes, this means you.

This is a piece about walking and good manners. This is nothing to be taken seriously. However, an atmosphere of politeness and smooth activity is a good thing to have in a city or on a campus. Daily rudeness and flagrant ignorance of one’s surroundings are enough to give any person or any student body a bad reputation. As it is, Cornell, I want to love you, but you just won’t let me.

Ryan O’Hern is a graduate student in the Computer Science department. He may be reached at [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.