The Paradox of Crowds

Well, the good (blog) intentions went by the wayside over the summer – sorry for months of cyber-silence. The summery lull is well and truly a fading memory. I am still in the student world these days, as I am a student again myself! For those of you who have been following my RELAY updates, I can confirm that I got into the course I applied for and I’m now taking part in a masters programme. Thanks be to God.

So, I can still appreciate the benefits of the student lifestyle – a flexible schedule, random chats around college, the good facilities, the discounts… – while maintaining the dignified position of a graduate! Only, I have to pay for it this time.

The engulfing hustle of seeing thousands of students daily – perhaps hourly – is a strange timeless continuum to find yourself in. Sitting on the ground floor of the library, looking out the window at all the people going to wherever they are going, it is a challenging thing to focus on whatever is at hand, rather than stare and wonder at the throbbing throngs outside. There is something addictive in watching other people, so many other people. And it’s not merely a voyeuristic pursuit. The busyness of the campus is captivating. As my eyes jump from one face to another, I feel like I should recognize its owner. Each new visage is another story and sometimes I wonder what that story is.

Yet, at the same time, the busyness is isolating. If you do not know many – or any – people that you normally see in your 9to5 window, these crowded places can be lonely places. Perhaps loneliness is that time when we are most aware of our need for others and when there are no others. This is the paradox of crowds: there are so many others but there may as well be no others. There are so many faces but they’re just faces. That sounds like a big cliche and it probably is but it still strikes me.

Now, I say these things not out of loneliness (well, not entirely) – but out of awareness. I am fortunate to know a good few people on the campus – a few faces in the crowd – and I’ve met a few more since the year began. But all around me there are other faces, other people who must be aware, even if subconsciously, of the paradox of crowds, who haven’t escaped the loneliness of crowds. So, the challenge then is to be more than a face in the crowd. It’s to be someone who opens a door, who picks up a fallen book, who starts a conversation, who chats in the queue. That doesn’t come easily to me though, it takes effort and confidence and risk and time and ultimately, well, you could call it having an interest in others or you could even call it love. But these are what make a relationship and when we are lonely, perhaps that’s when we are most aware that relationship is what we need.

Trying not to avoid you in a crowded place,


PS. India Knight – in the Sunday Times on 12/10/08 – wrote about how us westerners are so religiously consumeristic. She mentioned the carried-along-with-the-crowd effect – how we get carried along by the bouyancy of being in a crowd and are uplifted by it, especially when shopping. So, perhaps my thoughts on crowds aren’t so watertight.