September 30, 2016

People who walk up escalators and other thoughts

By Amy Smith

One idea I’m currently hypothesizing is that there are two types of people in this world: those who walk up escalators and those who stand on them and wait patiently for them to reach the top. This thought came to me as I schlepped my way up the escalator at the DuPont Circle Metro Station which must be one of the longest/tallest in the world (see below) while it was turned off one morning.

Dupont Escalator









My heart was pounding by the time I made it to the top and I couldn’t believe there were people who chose to walk up that many steps on purpose on a regular basis. I decided it was a metaphor for more important ideas – such as different ways of dealing with life. I enjoy standing on the escalator and letting it transport me to the top because that’s what escalators were made to do. If I wanted to walk up stairs, I would take the stairs. Other people are more focused on end results and care less about how to get there. They want to get to the top and do it as fast as possible so walking up the escalator seems like the wisest decision to them. Maybe I’m just lazy. Or maybe this represents a fundamental difference in thinking. I did some research on the topic and found that the most efficient use of escalators is actually for everyone to stand on them and not walk.

This seemingly silly topic interfaces two fundamental cultural issues: American desire for efficiency (which I touched on last week) and individualism vs. “greater good” mentality. Those who stand on escalators are technically sacrificing their personal efficiency for the efficiency of the group, and those who walk up are choosing their individual gratification over the greater good. What’s interesting about Washington D.C. is that it is a place full of people who are dedicated to the greater good. Over the last weeks we’ve met countless administrators, legislators, and policy analysts who are singularly focused on doing the most good for the greatest number of people possible.
So who are the people walking up the escalators here? A lot of these escalator walkers are often interest groups and corporations who lobby for their specific issues. They often will push their issues at the expense of the greater good. This sounds all negative but individuals and individual issues matter too. For example, some proposed higher education policies could very negatively affect veterinary students but other students and/or society by decreasing federal spending. Should veterinary students sacrifice their welfare at the expense of the “greater good”? Or should we continue to advocate for legislative changes that help veterinary students? I think, as with almost anything, the answer lies in the middle. There is common sense reform that can be made that would help veterinary students and not have other negative effects. This example is indicative of the struggle of the legislative process – legislators must listen to escalator walkers all day everyday who advocate for policies that will help their individual organization/profession/charity/demographic and then must transform these ideas into policy that does the most good for the greatest number of people. It is not easy and it is not simple. It is a huge part of the reason that the slowness of the process matters – hearing from many different stakeholder groups and experts on the topic often leads to the best solutions to complex issues that do the most good for the most people.
Additionally, doing your part and being a good member of society also means that sometimes you are going to have to stand on the escalator and be late to a meeting. Sometimes the legislation is not going to go your way but will help many other people and that’s just a part of life.
Metaphor and deep thoughts aside, I’m really glad the data was behind me so I can feel better about my escalator standing, which was not borne out of altruism but was instead a product of laziness.