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A philosopher discusses different kinds of walking.
2021-07-06 09:00:00
The Ideal Walk

Going shopping on foot can be quite agreeable, especially if you can walk to a market place (e.g. Krakow’s Stary Kleparz) to look at numerous fruits and vegetables in their variety of colours and aromas. Such places also facilitate encounters – we pass people of various nationalities, strangers of various dispositions. It also feels good to eventually stop at a stall to buy tomatoes or apples, or anything else we might fancy.

Walking around market squares is usually exceptionally pleasant, as long as it does not last too long. A change of scenery is highly advisable. We can then go walking through the town, on the pavement or the road, provided it is free of speeding vehicles. The advantage of walking on the road over walking on the pavement is the joy of transgression. One should remember that the longer we shop, the heavier the load we carry, and carrying around the weight of several kilograms deprives us of many of the joys of taking a walk. A certain form of burden is also the purpose itself, which – in the case of going shopping – is doing the shopping. Therefore, instead of going shopping, it is much better to go walking. Going for a walk differs from going shopping in its purpose and dynamics. A walk is usually slower, though there are exceptions – there are enthusiasts of walking at a brisk pace. Anyway, it is not up to us to judge which pace is better. There simply is a variety of walking paces, which does not mean, however, that the paces cannot be judged at all. Yet comparing the pace of one walk with the pace of other walks makes very little sense – this kind of judgement can tell us very little about the rightness or wrongness of a given walk’s pace.

The pace of walking is right if it suits our body’s needs. If it does not suit them, then it is wrong and in the longer run, it can lead to various dysfunctions. If we are forced to walk too slowly – slower than our body would expect – then we are bound to become frustrated and suffer a whole array of unpleasant consequences. If we are made to walk too quickly, we will, apart from frustration, suffer fatigue and its accompanying ailments, possibly injuries. The perfect walk happens at a pace that is optimal, not too fast and not too slow. In order to reach such a tempo, one should get rid of all outside motivations prompting excessive acceleration or slowing down. The optimal pace of our walk results only from the current state of our body and its needs. All outside motivations – e.g. a change in the weather (it starts raining, so we accelerate), the desire to be somewhere by a certain time (e.g. to catch a tram) or the need to do something else besides enjoying the walk (e.g. we put the washing machine on and now we need to hang the laundry; we are also meeting a friend at six) – move us away from the perfect walk.

A different case is the so-called altruistic walk, when we adjust our pace to that of someone else’s. The philosophy of dialogue and the philosophy of drama do not devote enough space to altruistic walks, which obviously go against the omnipresent egocentrism. Altruistic walks usually happen in the company of people much older or much younger than ourselves. Such a person usually walks at a pace much too slow or much too fast for our needs.

We meet many such altruistic walkers on the street, especially in parks. Altruistic walkers should be sympathized with and, every time a chance occurs, it is good to approach such an ambler – who more often than not turns out to be a woman – and comfort them with a smile or a good word, if any comes to our mind. It matters that it really be a good word, not just a word that seems good. If we are not sure whether the word at our disposal is really a good one or just an illusion of a good one, we should let the altruistic walker be.

The third kind of walking, besides going shopping and going for a walk, is walking to work. A very special case of the latter is walking to work in order to walk, or racewalking. Yet the vast majority of people walking to work do so not in order to walk, but to lift, carry from place to place, sit, take calls, calculate and tap on the keyboard. Naturally, there are at least as many kinds of sitting as there are of walking. In any case, due to the lack of space I only mention the most common kinds.

Walking to work is very rarely the optimal kind of walking; similar to going shopping on foot, it is a goal-oriented kind of walking whose purpose is work. Therefore, going to work has little in common with taking a walk in the strict sense, yet it sometimes has a lot in common with altruistic walking. After all, we go to work for our children to earn money to support them with; alternatively, we walk to work for our parents to help them support us or help them financially, if they are ill or in their dotage and there is a need for that. Finally, we go to work for our partners who, for various reasons, want us to earn money. These are just a few chosen examples of going to work.

Walking to work can be pleasant or unpleasant. Here, one should note a certain regularity. ‘The purpose of walking’ always has an influence on ‘the sensations resulting from walking’. Correspondingly, the nature of our work influences the pleasure we get from walking to it, just like the character of shopping influences the pleasure we get from doing it.

The most pleasurable kind of walking is walking for walking’s sake, provided, of course, that one enjoys walking. It seems to me though that people who do not like walking have not experienced walking without a purpose. It is usually the case that people who see walking as a source of discomfort associate it with walking to a job they dislike or with walking to the market and carrying heavy shopping. Such people – apart from work and shopping – usually have little time left for walking without a purpose; what’s more, they prefer to spend this time in bed or in an armchair. In other words, the so-called ‘people who do not enjoy walking’ are usually those overworked and fatigued. In different conditions, if they had more time to rest, these people would find pleasure in walking, especially in spring and summer. Similarly, the ill who experience some sort of discomfort while walking would certainly gladly walk, if the cause of the discomfort was removed. We can safely assume, then, that everyone likes walking, because, as Franz Hessel observed: “Walking down bustling streets is a particular pleasure.”


Translated from the Polish by Adam Zdrodowski

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