“The worst sin to our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that is the essence of inhumanity.” George Bernhard Shaw
Blanking – ignoring folk you know – happens everywhere. But in St Andrews’ three streets where bumping into people is inevitable, it seems multiplied ten-fold. The feeling of being spotted by someone a dozen feet away and seeing them look everywhere but where you are is unmistakable. They saw you, but decided to blank you.
On an online thread a guy expressed his bewilderment at being completely ignored by a friend. The responses where either don’t give a sh*t about them or suggestions of a more aggressive response. All empathised and said it was one of the rudest things you could do.
Swear at me. Push me. Scream. But don’t act like I’m not here.
Why is it that this behaviour which has been around us since nursery, is still so gut-wrenching? Why is a nod or a split-second smile so connected to our sense of worth?
It turns out that what your parents and friends may have said about brushing it away, is not so easy as it’s wired into our biology. Being ignored activates the same part of the brain as physical pain, and it doesn’t matter if the person ignoring you is close to you or a bare acquaintance. The initial reaction is the same.
It’s amazing how much power we have against people we might hardly know.
But a great way of not being on that side, is always letting the other person be the one to initiate contact, avoiding the embarrassment of looking needy.
But we are needy. It’s part of who we are as human beings. Having our existence denied, essentially, rocks our very identities. The coldness, not bothering to give an explanation, brings an escalating spiral of self-doubt.
St Andrews is small. And you could say that your mouth would droop from smiling and your head would fall off from nodding at everyone you know. We are all so tired that one more Cheshire grin might just tip us over the edge. But I would disagree, and say that as cliché as it is, a smile does charge you up (in a way that even chocolate doesn’t!) When I was looking at universities many people told me that St Andrews is suffocating, and I still hear that now. A bubble where the oxygen has become stale, and which keeps turning and turning. I guess that walking around and meeting the same people who you just can’t get away from, must feel – well – pretty awful. But I think all the head turning and eye straining you get from fixing your gaze anywhere but on the-person-you-are-avoiding is much more likely to do you in.
For several years during high school, I would walk the same route, walking over the same cobble stones and past the same people. Some were ‘markers’ – if I passed them at a certain place on my route I was on time, if I met them earlier, I was late. But there was one woman, a renowned childrens’ author whose books I loved, would always smile and say ‘Hello’. She wasn’t your typical primary school fuzzy teddy bear, I’d seen her at events – never meeting her outside my route in person – and many literary agents called her spiky and difficult to work with. Yet she found it valuable to exchange a smile and a word every morning. So much that when I moved away, I almost felt like I needed to tell her that I wouldn’t be there anymore. But I didn’t.
I am a hypocrite. I often blank people, cause hey – it’s easier.