Learning from Bus Buddhists

In psychological terms, context is almost everything.

Much as we like to think that we know how we will act and react in a given situation, without the richness of the real context we tend to ignore factors that make a huge difference to our behaviour. We ignore them because they involve reactions of our unconscious mind.

At the same time, if we are wondering how other people will react it can be very hard to see the world through their eyes; our own unconscious biases and prejudices creep in. And, because they too reside in our unconscious mind, we often don’t even realise that we’re distorting things because of our own lens.

Recently I got involved in some research for Greener Journeys who wanted to promote ‘Catch the Bus Week’. As part of this I worked with Mindlab to devise a survey to look at bus users behaviour; and I uncovered a bias of my own.

You see, I don’t like talking to people on public transport. At least, that’s what I’d tell you if you asked. But I’d be lying. When I take a flight I quite often speak to the person I’m sitting next to; it’s interesting to see who’s going where to do what.

But when people say ‘Public transport’ I think of the bus and the Underground. I certainly don’t speak to people on the Underground; partly because the noise of the trains makes it almost impossible and partly because nobody else does.

So what about the bus?

I tend to think of the bus like the Underground, but the survey showed that the people who get the most of the bus, who use it to connect with friends and families and to socialise, are quite different from me. They do engage with the people around them, using the journey to connect with their local area and their community during the journey, not just as a consequence of it. You could think of them as Bus Buddhists! And they weren’t the exception either. Amongst regular bus users there are more Bus Buddhists than bus hermits like me.

What’s interesting is that studies have shown that social interaction is just as important to our life expectancy as more commonly referenced factors such as diet and exercise.

So I’m working on my perception of the bus. Next time I take it and find myself sitting next to someone I plan to take the time to find out a little bit more about them.


You can find out more about catch the bus week at www.catchthebusweek.co.uk

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