Today, something strange happened to me on the bus. I was shamed, by a complete stranger.
First off, it was pretty innocuous, and I know feel a sense of humour towards their interaction, rather than anger. Also, I by no means think this is anything close to the other kinds of shaming that happens all too regularly to people in today’s society.
I usually read on the bus. Because I work full time I’m more likely to zone out in front of Netflix than tackle a book, because effort, right? Therefore, the hour and a half or so I spend commuting daily, is the perfect space for me to enjoy reading.
The first four A Song of Ice and Fire novels – ploughed through those in a few months. Kerouac? No problem. Not even Tolstoy was safe from my commuting literary feast.
However, today I’d forgotten to put a book in my rucksack. So, like any other human being would reasonably do, I pulled out my nice shiny iPhone 6. The scourge of boredom. So, for the 20 minutes it took for me to get from Newcastle to my bus stop I listened to the last bit of a podcast, set Spotify away, and chatted with three of my friends – one, who lives locally; two – who is currently in London; and three – who is holidaying in Thailand.
As I stood up to leave, a man in front who looked to be in his fifties, turned around and started saying something to me – confused, I lowered my noise-cancelling headphones and uttered a pleasant, yet confused “hmm?” in reply – I mean, what kind of animal talks to another person on public transport?! The animal!
“You really should learn how to better communicate.” he said, motioning with his eyes to my phone.
And off he strolled.
In a split second I went from confused, to dumbfounded to outright pissed off.
I’m guilty as anyone for spending too much time on my phone. But, I’m going to blame modern life. I mean, my life, for better or for worse is attached to a small, overpriced rectangle in my pocket.
I stormed off the bus really angry. First, I thought, “who the fuck was that prick”, the eloquent put down coursing through my internal monologue. I was the victim of a snap judgement that took no account of who I am, what I was doing, or who I was talking to.
All that guy saw was just another person on a phone, mind-dulled by innumerable apps, another symptom of modern society and all it’s ills. Did he look at me and think I was so one dimensional? Do I actually not know how to communicate? Would he have refrained from chastising me had I been actually talking on the phone for 20 minutes, rather than typing?
All of these thoughts ran through my head as I walked home. But as I calmed down, I have begun to brush it off as a random encounter, by a person who needed to mind their own business, whose opinion has no bearing on who I am or how I should continue to interact with my phone.
Like I forewarned you, this encounter is so trivial, it barely feels worth talking about it. However, for me, the after effects feel more profound.
It has given me a first hand account, however small, of how it feels to be victimised. Even though over such an insignificant thing – which I thought about for over 2 hours after it happened.
I thought about how unbelievably hard it must be for people who experience this kind of interaction on a regular basis, except the interactions being so much worse. I have never been criticised for my gender, sexual orientation, religion or lack thereof. I don’t have these barriers up against me every waking minute of the day. And this real-life manifestation made me so much more conscious of this huge issue. I’m bloody well going to try harder to A) ensure my actions and words don’t cause pain against others, and B) to try and make people more aware of how impactful even the most seemingly inconsequential statements, and actions can be.
Anyway. I’ve learned never leave the house without so much as a Where’s Wally book from now on.