In a somewhat surprising turn of events (for me, no-one else would care) I have found myself on more trains in the last six weeks than I have taken in the previous 3 years. It is one of the UK’s main train lines that I have been travelling on but, fortunately for me, it has been during off peak times. This means I have (so far) always managed to find myself a seat, but I have also found myself journeying with a wider diversity of people than I suspect you find during peak times on trains (less business-people, more people-people).
As I was avoiding the gaze of a rather stern looking older gentleman last week it struck me that I had made some rather outlandish assumptions about him, without a word having past between us. I assumed he either was or had been married, that he had spent his working life in only one or two regular jobs, working in what most people would consider ‘normal’ occupations, and that he held the political and cultural opinions that I would usually ascribe to older white men. None of that was fair. Even if I had been correct in my assumptions of him I am most certainly not correct in my assumptions of most people. This is because as humans we find it incredibly difficult to acknowledge that there really are 7 BILLION unique individuals sharing the planet with us. Simply to make it through the day it becomes necessary to put people into boxes. Some humans are old, some humans are tall, some humans are noisy and some humans are our friends. But people rarely fit perfectly into their boxes and the trouble comes when the boxes dictate how people are treated. Not every dog owner hates cats and not every old lady knits. Those examples seem harmless enough but when you go from assuming that people behave in certain ways towards animals and crafts it is not far to begin assuming you know how they will behave towards refugees and climate change issues. There is also the risk that if you are a person who holds extreme or unfair views, and you assume that all the people who look like you also hold those views, you end up bullying and coercing instead of listening and learning.
In an attempt to think a little differently the next time I find myself travelling by train I decided to look up some statistics on people in the UK. Unfortunately most of the information the internet holds on populations statistics is really depressing, so some of the rambling below is based on wishful thinking as much as actual facts (credits and sources at the bottom of the page)
If you were able to fill a train with 100 completely average UK residents you would find the following people journeying with you:
18 of them would be aged 16 or under (probably listening to loud music on their headphones – hopefully not in the quiet carriage).
64 of them would be aged 17-64 (staring out of the windows, desperately trying to not catch anyone else’s eye).
18 of them would be 65 or older (sucking on boiled sweets, obviously).
1 in 5 of all them will live to see their 100th birthday.
50 of them are either living with cancer, have already had it, or will be diagnosed with it at some point in their lives.
1 person is autistic.
1 person is epileptic.
1 person is schizophrenic.
Between 1 and 4 people identify as LBTGQ+
99% of them over the age of 15 can read and write.
2 of them are employed by the NHS in some capacity.
1 of them is a psychopath.
Some of them are aspiring writers, some of them wish they could run away and join a circus. Many of them are parents and/or carers and some of them were punks in the 70’s.
There may be a murderer, an organ donor, someone travelling to meet long-lost family, a flower arranger, someone who has just failed their driving test, someone who doesn’t know they’re about to get a pay rise or even someone who is just about to meet the love of their lives.
The point I am trying to get into my own brain is that there really is no such thing as average and in order to be fair to all the people I share this planet with I should probably take a moment to remember that, before leaping to conclusions about them. I care more about ensuring that my thoughts are clear, fair, accurate and balanced than about what others think of me, but it makes it a great deal easier to challenge it when people have made incorrect assumptions about me when I know I haven’t done it to them.
Art from The End Of The Road music festival.