Thursday, 22 October 2009

Do You Challenge Queue-Jumpers and Line-Cutters?

It was a heavy doze of morning mails and i was not very gay when i entered the training room for a day long training on 'individual contributions and role behaviors' in an organization. By and large this topic didn't impress me in the first place. I held on and went through really tiring sessions on psychology, management and a host of other abstract subjects. I had to miss breakfast in the morning in order to make to the training in time (which was a mandate stringently observed).

The thing happened when we got our first break for lunch. With my tummy rolling and hunger striking me like never before, i stood in the unusual long queue in the cafeteria. I was somewhere around 37th or so when i joined the queue. That added salt to the hunger wound. And then came a small gang of 6 members who had no sense of etiquette and barged into the line as if it didn't exist. Impulsively, owing to my already built up frustration, I lost my temper and challenged that lot. After heated exchanges, they exhibited some kind of social sense to everyone's relief.

Now the reader is advised to consider the above paragraphs as a prologue to a dangerous discussion on psychology.

Disclaimer: To read on, some specific qualifications are quintessential. High levels of patience/ Interest in psychology/Both

Queue is a classic example of how groups of people automatically create social order out of chaos. But this social order can be fragile when faced with chaotic threats, like that of the queue-jumper. Suddenly we have a social psychology experiment on our hands: how fragile is this spontaneous social order and what will people do to protect it? In the answer to this seemingly mundane question may lie an important truth about our behavior in groups. Earlier, people were strangely reluctant to challenge queue-jumpers, suggesting our spontaneous social order is fairly week.

Under what conditions people would protest at queue-jumpers? It depends on two variations. The first variation is the number of intruders. The second, when there are two or more people between us and the queue-jumper, objections drop.

I mean, are we all afraid to question these brazen heads that jump queues or cut lines? No is the answer. In my opinion, there are a few reasons why we don't intervene.

1.Challenging queue-jumpers could mean losing your own place in the line.
2.Social systems have to tolerate some deviance otherwise they may quickly break down, i.e. a fight may start and everyone is delayed while it is sorted out.
3.The line is co-opting those who threaten it by tacitly accepting them so that they gain an interest in the queue and the queue becomes stronger.

After all, queue-jumping is tolerated as long as it doesn't threaten the line too much. People want to avoid social disorder because their own interests (getting served) are tied up in an orderly queue.

So, next time when you are in a queue observe how many people protest immediately at the queue jumper. If no one does, please do it yourself. Alternatively, a good idea of fun is to watch a crowded place for a queue and keep observing. Wait for intrusions and enjoy the ruckus and fights.

Happy queuing!

2 comments:

musafir said...

pradeep sir .... am pretty amused by the phrase you coined - 'chaotic threats' - :D. i wont question what your 'experiment in social behaviour' has brought out ;) .. but sirji - there is order in chaos - check out the world of fractals - you get lost in an infinite cycle of chaotic behaviour (not social ;) - but of numbers in a complex plane) and as you go on - you realise the same is the case with nature - there is no limit to how much you can unravel it - you are only limited by the power of tools u use to sense it- but in its apparent chaos it still maintains balance and order.

unrelated though - but your post reminded me of my long lost love - chaos theory - fractals - brownian motion - fractional brownian motion - what days eh.

pradeep sekhar said...

@Musafir:
Amazing insight into mathematics. Now as my post reminded you of your long lost love, your comment drags me into the world of mathematics...the world that i "die to live in" (another 'coined' metaphor from my side) :-).

Now i have some food for thought -"the restriction in the power of tools we use and the 'balance and order in chaos'"

Raining metaphors and oxymoron!!