The Social Stigma of Walking

WalkingA little over two years ago, our family went from owning two cars to one and bought a scooter that gets about 80 miles per gallon. We’re loving it now that gas is over $4 per gallon! About that same time, we also starting commuting to work using our bicycles and our feet.

By choice we live in town, near parks, shopping and public transportation. We’ve designed it so that we live about a mile from both my office and my wife’s office. It’s perfect. Some times I notice that I haven’t driven the car or ridden the scooter in a couple of days in a row! We have a true urban lifestyle, right here in Flagstaff.

Living an urban lifestyle is not new to me. I lived in New York City for a time in downtown Manhattan. During that time, I didn’t own a car. I walked, used the subway or took a taxi. When I needed a car to leave the city, I rented one. In fact, in the urban lifestyle, the ability to drive is never assumed. A standard question on employment applications is “do you have a driver’s license?”

I’ve now lived in Flagstaff for nearly 20 years and during that time, I’ve grown accustomed to the “freedom” of driving anywhere, anytime I choose. So two years ago, when my wife and I decided to re-adopt a more urban lifestyle, I have to admit that I felt a little uncomfortable.

At first when I would walk to work, I felt self-conscious as the motorists drove past me. In my mind they were thinking “oh, he must not be able to afford to drive”, or “he must have lost his license”, or “what’s wrong with him – where’s his car?” I know that’s what they might have been thinking because I recall having those same thoughts over the years as I sat in my car at the traffic light watching someone walk across the street carrying a sack of groceries. In fact, the very first day I began my new urban lifestyle, I hadn’t walked a block from my house when a friend who was driving by saw me and immediately stopped and jumped out of their car wondering what was wrong asking if I needed a ride!

“No thanks” I said, “I’m just walking”. With resignation, my friend accepted my answer and slowly drove off.

In the west, we drive. We drive to work. We drive to get food. We drive for fun. We drive to the gym to get some exercise. In fact, the only reason to walk is to get some exercise. For a while when I was walking to work, the only time I really felt comfortable was when I was wearing shorts, tennis shoes and a tee shirt. That way people might think that I was only out getting some exercise – not commuting to the office.

These days, I don’t have that problem. I look forward to my walks. I proudly commute with my brief case in hand, sometimes even wearing dress shoes, as I walk to work. Now that monsoon season has started, I admit that I’ve relished the thought of carrying an umbrella and walking in a downpour!

Commuting with your feet carries with it a return to simplicity – the simplicity of childhood when learning to walk was the “freedom” that the car becomes to the adult. Walking brings a few minutes of simple slowness into my life, where time expands and I notice the birds singing, the sun on my shoulder and other people out mowing their lawn, riding their bikes and doing what I’m doing – walking!

Now I look at the people commuting in their cars and I give thanks for having this short time where I have no stress, can breathe deeply and circulate the blood in my veins – the perfect receipe for wellness, something that I know the motorists along side of me don’t have at that moment.

It’s taken me a while, but I now feel I’ve finally overcome the social stigma of walking.

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About Paul Kulpinski, LMT

Paul Kulpinski is a licensed massage therapist, holistic wellness coach and co-founder of Mountain Waves Healing Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona with over 15 years experience in helping people achieve their optimum state of well being. Information contained in this blog should not be taken as medical advice. Readers are advised to validate the information presented here with other sources including your personal physician for information specific to you.
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One Response to The Social Stigma of Walking

  1. George Breed says:

    As a confirmed walker (I deliberately have no car), I wholeheartedly agree with your perspective, Brad. An entire world has opened to me in these past five years.

    For a while, I lived about three miles from my place of work, so had a 6 mile walk each day. I remember at first feeling irritated at the car noise as I walked (the loud whirring of tires, the revving of engines, the whooshing of disturbed air), then at some point began feeling sorry for folk in cars — all caged and penned and cut off from the world, all hell-bent on getting somewhere, anywhere other than where they were).

    I began finding “shortcuts” through the forest and down back alleys (interesting sights there!) and finding peace and quiet as I slowly quit “driving” myself along in my walking but began strolling, relaxing as I went.
    It was then I began to appreciate that others were trapped in their cars on the main “arteries” while I meandered along the “veins.” Rich veins they are too, bearing precious ore that remains unmined.

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