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Sidewalk Chicken…The strangers that affect o...

Sidewalk Chicken…The strangers that affect our mood.

Photo on 12-10-12 at 10.19 AMSo many things can influence our mood.  Music.  Food.  Weather.  Color.  Strangers.  How many times have you been in a great mood and along comes someone you’ve never met – they say or do something and BAM…suddenly there’s a dark cloud and you’re in a funk.  The dark cloud, of course, is metaphorical and stands for the any number of things that influence our moods.  Today we’re talking about Strangers and just like the weather, we have no control over it…or them.

There is a scientific basis for how music, food, color & weather affect your mood, but strangers can affect your mood largely because of the way you already think.  A lot is going on inside your head, and your brain and its complex processes are even manipulating your emotions. In other words, there’s way more behind that angry feeling than the car that just cut you off. Much is involved in interpreting emotional circumstances and crafting your responses to them, and your brain is affecting how you feel and how you respond to those feelings in ways you’re probably not even aware of.

It’s evolutionary.  Emotions like fear serve to protect you from danger so you can survive to pass on your genes. The “fight-or-flight” response that primes your body to defend itself or run away from danger is also an emotional reaction. Emotions like love and lust give you the desire to reproduce. Strangers can affect your mood based on experiential history.

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I give you “Sidewalk Chicken”.  

“Sidewalk Chicken” is my Kryptonite to happiness.  You may not know it as sidewalk chicken, but you’ve played it.  The urban dictionary describes sidewalk chicken as this:

When you and a stranger are walking in opposite directions on the sidewalk and, despite how far away you are, how much space to your sides you have, and multiple attempts to get out of each other’s way, you always seem to step in the same direction, resulting in you bumping into one another.The more vigorously you step left and right to avoid the other person, the more violent the impact.

So you’re walking down the street (on the right, of course because that’s the proper sidewalk etiquette) and you can see one or two (sometimes more) people walking toward you.  You want to avoid the “sidewalk dance” and pass easily and quietly, and even enjoy a greeting…even the “what’s up” head nod would be fine, but they don’t seem to adhere to the same sidewalk etiquette as you do, in fact they’re not even making eye contact.  Sure, you can step aside, but in what direction…the dance begins and if there are two or more people, it appears your only option is to just get off the sidewalk.

Now, if you’re walking in a fairly rural or suburban neighborhood, one or two occasions isn’t going to send you into a tail spin, but if you’re in any kind of populated area you’re constantly stepping off the sidewalk to allow others to pass and your mood is going to sour fast.

The Question that is important to ask ourselves is “Why”….why do I feel this way when forced to step off the pavement for others to pass.  The answer to this question is the cause for your mood change.

Just like “sidewalk chicken”, a driver that cuts you off in traffic and then gives you the finger – why did that make you angry?  You don’t own this bad behavior…the stranger does.  Yet still it can send your good mood right into a downward spiral.

file0001005216081Let’s stop giving other people (including strangers) all that power!  If somebody gives you the middle finger while driving, smile back at them and give them the OK sign back. If you find yourself heading toward Sidewalk Chicken, assume positive intent and stay on your right side…smile at them and I dare you to get them to say hello.  Don’t let somebody else’s bad day control the outcome of yours. If you have to deal with a grumpy person, kill them with kindness.  Often times your unfounded happiness will make them realize how big of a jerk they are being.


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  1. Good post that is so logically presented that it must be fully considered. I am here to say that when I finally learned to NOT let the behavior of other people ruin my own happy mood – well, life on the planet became a much happier place to be. Less stress, fewer wrinkles from the furrowed brow.

    After many years of living in and walking the streets of San Francisco I often dealt with the oncoming sidewalk chicken by simply stopping and smiling straight at them. Yep, just stood right where I was to see what would happen. A few ran into me, never looking directly at me. Others returned my smile. I will admit that my foot kinda went to the side which the person who ran into me chose for his exit. No one fell face down, but they did get a bit out of step. Secret fun stuff.
    Julie Phelps recently posted…Ending and BeginningMy Profile

    • Barbara Coleman

      30 July

      Julie, I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s played “sidewalk chicken”. I feel like I lost the game every time! Just like you, I’d stop and smile and wait for them to “see me” and step aside….But it would piss me off to no end and just like you, instead of a foot….I’d always have an elbow out. I’ve learned now to anticipate positive intent and I just keep walking and yes I will stop if I have to…but with my new attitude, I haven’t had to yet. I’ve got my grandson with me for two weeks and we’ve been practicing good sidewalk etiquette…I even had someone stop and watch us…nodding and smiling. I feel like I’ve finally won…the real game – the stranger will not win! 🙂

      • It is all more fun as a “game” 🙂
        When new to SF, and a recent graduate of self defense moves, I still recall with a smile the time I was walking along on a side street of the Mission District. Just ahead was a small group of physically arguing young men – shouting, shoving, lots of cursing, etc. Instead of crossing to other side of street I practiced my new found self confidence and walked right at the group. What was I thinking?…. Hehe, my attitude must’ve worked in my favor – the guys temporarily ceased the battle and stepped aside for me to pass.
        I should not have played that particular game, but it sure felt good at the time!
        Julie Phelps recently posted…Ending and BeginningMy Profile

    • Lee Aldrich

      3 August

      Julie – when Barb first came up with an article that actually named the behavior as “sidewalk chicken” I about fell off my chair laughing. Whoda thunk? After that I started paying attention to the folks I met on the street….did they move over, did they stand their ground… Thank you for your comment. I loved it!!

  2. […] it comes to situations like “Sidewalk Chicken”, it could completely ruin my day.  Feeling invisible and unimportant because there was no room on […]

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