I notice it most at 14th Street Union Square when I’m exiting the N, R, or Q trains on the way home from work. It’s usually around 7:30 or 8pm and I’ve got my headphones on trying to clear my head from the workday. The train starts to decelerate as we approach the station stop and I position myself in front of the subway doors in preparation for exit. As the train comes to a complete stop in the station, there is a 2 to 3 second pause before the doors open – and that’s when it happens: people waiting to get on the train rush up and stand directly in front of the subway doors.
Now, it’s not as if they can’t see people waiting to exit (there are windows in the doors that allow you to see in) and I’m relatively sure that it’s not their first time getting on the subway, so they know it’s much faster to let people exit before they try to get on. There really is no logical reason that people would block the subway doors in the station and yet, it happens! Every time!
I’ve been thinking about my subway experience – truly a microcosm of the human condition – for some time now. It seems that it really reveals something about the way human brains are programmed. At the core of all our memories, experiences, and values there is a default universal preference for self interest. I’m not saying that altruism doesn’t exist – it’s easy to see that people act in the interest of others all the time. However, what I’ve noticed is at times when the mind wanders and the repercussions of our actions are not immediately evident (for instance: when we’re waiting for the train), – we revert back to the one fundamental human instinct: me first.