Saturday, March 6, 2021

Overcoming a Pandemic of Rudeness...with some time in nature

It’s a beautiful day out and I have been on my computer and at a desk for the last two weeks.  This morning I decided it was time to get out, stretch my legs and find the birds that are now calling everywhere.  I set out on my own through one of London’s beautiful green-spaces and trail-ways.  If anyone was nearby I stepped aside off the trail to give them lots of space to safely pass, and I wear my mask at all times when outside.  

At one point, about 30 minutes into my trek, while admiring a beautiful Common Merganser swimming in the Thames River a group of three people, shoulder to shoulder marched up to me and began systematically screaming at me for being outdoors.  I was loudly informed that “birding isn’t essential”, that me “being outside isn’t essential”, and that “I was a selfish little girl who should be ashamed.”  One pushed up against me to yell asking “whether I knew how many people I was endangering because I went outside to look at birds?”  Another then rushed up to inform me that “mornings are seniors hours on the trails everyone knows that!  You aren’t allowed out here!”  

Stunned I just stood there as a new barrage of critiques was unleashed.  

I was asked whether I “realized that my driving to the trail was a waste of essential fuel that is necessary for those people who rely on their cars to get around!  You shouldn’t be driving to parks!  you should be staying at home!”  In fact I don’t have a driver’s license, do not have a car, and I had walked to the trail.

One lady waved her cane at me asking “what if you hurt yourself and needed help?  Think about all the health care workers you would be distracting from helping people who really need help by selfishly being out here and being stupid just because you want to toddle about!”  

Now upset I asked them in return “Fair enough, but what are you doing out here? Why aren’t you three social distancing?  What would happen if any of you injured yourselves out here?  What makes your walk essential and mine not? And where are your masks?”  The three looked stunned to have been talked back to and after a moment of grumbling they where quick to announce that they “did not have to wear masks as they all have pre-existing conditions”, “that they needed to walk for their health” and that “they did not have to social distance because they knew each other” and were “a bubble”.  Simply put they had their own reasons for judging why my short outing to bird was non-essential, but why their constitutional was necessary and not to be questioned.  As they continued on clucking about my “selfishness” I walked away and returned ‘home’ to my desk and my computer – where I promptly found an email telling me off for “hiking and promoting hiking which only serves to make fun of people who don’t like to hike”.  

Clearly it as going to be one of those days.

While I certainly appreciate the fact that everyone’s personal situations are different, and that there is an ongoing need for each of us to be vigilant and to act responsibly during the pandemic, the fact is that almost every medical professional and mental health expert across the country has recommended that everyone get outdoors and responsibly engage in daily physical activity, and get fresh air to maintain good mental health and fitness. Even the Great Trail is running a campaign urging people to get out into nature and onto the trails to turn those winter Blahs 2 Ahhhs promoting good mental health and physical fitness. So it is important for all of us to spend time in nature.   

I’m not sure, and maybe it’s just me, but is it getting tougher out there?  Is it getting meaner, ruder and more judgmental?  Everyone I meet seems to be an expert, with the ‘right opinion’, and few people seem willing to let other people responsibly do their own thing without having to interject and comment.  More and more people critique rather than being willing to reflect.  

With some of the reactions to people outdoors these days I am less and less concerned about Covid and more concerned about who we are turning into as a society because of Covid.   I’m not sure if it is just me or just me having a bad day, but 12 months into this pandemic it now feels like just getting out of bed and making coffee is an Olympian feet.   For me, good days are now those rare occasions when I go out and am able to get to my destination and back without being yelled at or told off.  The bar for happiness is now that low.  

In recent weeks I don’t deny my faith in people has been challenged.  This recent instance has hardly been the only time that either of us has been confronted this winter.   

I have been told off for hiking on local trails because ‘walking without a dog is not essential’.  I have been given warnings by other walkers that ‘the police will be called if you walk on our trails because it is not essential for you to be out here because this is our neighbourhood’. I have watched as a group of children building snowmen were confronted for playing in a schoolyard which was (at least for the aggressor) ‘not essential’.  While birding I have been alternatively mocked for wearing a mask and screamed at for not wearing one in the middle of a field while alone.  A few weeks ago I was pushed off the sidewalk by one gentleman who loudly declared that ‘sidewalks are safe spaces for seniors get off!’.  And I have been confronted by people with budging buggies at the grocery store for buying two cans of soup for dinner that night which apparently ‘takes away from those that can only eat that type of food.’   I have been stunned in stores as other customers, often for no particular reason, begin loudly exclaiming their own opinions to everyone within earshot.  If I go into a local shop I am invariably yelled at for entering the store ‘and endangering others’, but every time a neighbour sees an Amazon package arrive I receive a note on my door telling me to ‘support local and go to a brick and mortar store’.  Everything I do from walking to eating to breathing is now deemed selfish and non-essential by someone else.  

It has gotten to the point that I am nervous of going out into nature, onto the local trails, and even to venture out to the store buy groceries.  I am, nervous of unintentionally endangering others by going out.  I am worried about unintentionally breaking one of the new and ever changing Covid regulations.  But most of all I am worried at being confronted for some real or imagined slight by some self proclaimed local enforcer.    

These days it seems that there are absolutely no bounds to people’s judgments and their willingness to inform others of them. 

What stuns me most is that none of this reflects the fabled Canadian patience and hospitality that our nation is known for.  Nor is it the kindnesses of strangers and communities that we have repeatedly seen throughout our trek across the nation from Newfoundland to Manitoba. It has always both amazed me and been source of pride that anyone can walk across Canada and receive such wonderful and overwhelming kindness, aid and generosity from so many 'strangers' along the way!  We could certainly not have trekked almost 7000 km (so far) without the help of Canadians across 7 provinces.  

So what is going on?  Well, I have to believe that what we are seeing is a combination of anxiety, frustration, and boredom leading to a pandemic of rudeness that does little to alleviate the situation or calm others who feel just as nervous and uncertain.  

I don’t know if our time in Covid lockdowns has made us more who we really are as individuals, or if the bonds of society are breaking.  I don’t know if it is simply that we are all starving from a lack of connection to others, to work, and to nature. I don’t know if it is slippage from people’s virtual lives and everyone has simply gotten used to being mean online with no consequences.  I don’t know if it is because we have all lost a lot in the past year and the closer each of us gets to losing more the further scared we get.  Or if it is just shear unchecked selfishness that allows people to confront others for often doing exactly what they are doing without any self awareness.

Certainly not everyone can be so wrapped up in themselves and their own drama that they have forgotten that we all live in a common community?  

I understand that it is easy to only see the darkness of the moment, to feel the despair from isolation and loss, but we are each so much better than this. We all need to strive collectively to stop the rising tide of nastiness that seems to be sweeping across our neighbourhoods.   

So the question is how do we find a balance again?  How do we each become aware again, more present again, and more in touch with the needs of those around us?  

I have struggled with for a while now and there are only two things I keep coming back to.  

The first is that we all need to be aware that everyone is struggling, others are doing their best too, and others are hoping to take a break from all this chaos and frustration as well.  The fact is that being confronted with this type of nastiness isn’t helping anyone.  Perhaps we all need to spend a little less time focused on the actions of others and spend more time managing our own expectations, our own sense of entitlement, rein in our own immediate demands and our belief that everyone do as we do and at the same time remember to be empathetic to those we encounter each day.

As the famous comedian Robin Williams once said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be Kind.  Always.”  This seems to be great advice, especially these days.

The second thing that comes to mind, is that I think we all need to get out of our houses more, for our own mental health, our own physical fitness, and to regain some perspective on the world.  The simple fact is that we are almost through this tough time, and the trails, green spaces and nature in our communities are open for EVERYONE to responsibly use.  With spring coming, the weather warming, and the birds singing it is absolutely the perfect time to get back outdoors and reconnect with nature – for your own health and the health of everyone it’s time for each of us to go for a walk.

I know this isn't our usual sort of post but it seems that, now more than ever, we all need to remember that not only is it essential for everyone to get outdoors but that we each need to strive to ensure that everyone feels welcome out there - even when we are having a tough day or feeling anxious.  

Believe it or not things are going to be better this year...

See you on the trail!


  1. I went for a walk on Mooney's Pond trail yesterday. It's a short one - just 2 km. Chatted with a person who was standing on the viewing platform, and like me, watching and listening to some Asian kids learning to skate on the pond below. It was a perfect day and this was the perfect way to enjoy being alive. You know what I mean.

    1. So wonderful to hear about people out and enjoying nature!


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