You’re just walking down the street, minding your own business, when suddenly, in the distance, a stranger appears. They’re walking towards you, on the same side of the street, the same sidewalk.
Instantly, your mind shifts gears. You start watching the stranger, and without even realizing it, asking questions and taking mental notes. Are they bigger than you? What gender are they? What do their clothes say about their financial status and potential for attempting to grab your purse or ask you for spare change? Do you have any? Are you feeling generous or stingy?
The stranger gets closer. Will you ignore them completely, staring straight ahead as if consumed by lofty thoughts? Should you make eye contact? What if you try to make eye contact and they ignore you? What if you succeed in making eye contact and they are encouraged and try to begin a conversation in which they tell you personal details of their lives? Should you walk by briskly while smiling and saying a hearty “Good Morning!” to show goodwill and friendliness, without inviting further conversation?
But wait—there is the matter of walking by. Clearly, you are both in the middle of the sidewalk—who will be the first to show deference to move over and allow the other to pass? Will moving over be viewed as a sign of passive weakness? Will not moving over be viewed as an act of aggression?
This is the point at which I usually begin to hear the theme song from “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” in my head, and start having thoughts in a southern accent, like “This here sidewalk’s not big enough for the both of us.” Then I start laughing, which causes the stranger to question my sanity and cross to the other side of the street, thereby solving my dilemma.
Or, if the stranger is crazy in the same way I am—smiles and hearty good mornings are exchanged while we both simultaneously dance awkwardly from one side of the sidewalk to the other in repeated unsuccessful attempts by each of us to let the other pass.
Ah, the joys of civilization. Who usually moves over in your sidewalk skirmishes?