Over the last few weeks, I was fortunate enough to attend a sold out concert in the Ottawa area.  The concert was amazing and I’ll remember the experience forever (I had been waiting close to 30 years to see the artist perform this show live in the flesh).  Yet I came across another observation that shocked me and changed my perspective for a while to come.

There were lines for the men’s washroom.

Okay, so maybe it’s not such a shocking event.  After all, lines for the washroom are common for women; why not for men?  Still, with my back to the wall, my instinct for explanation took over and I arrived at certain hypotheses as to why this was happening.

  • There had to be widespread food poisoning;
  • There had to be an overflowing toilet;
  • There had to be construction;
  • There was an incredible sale on certain beverages.

But there were no signs of any of these options.  When I entered into the washroom proper, the urinals were all in order, the stalls were dry, there were no signs for mandatory hardhats use and the echoes of complaints of high costs for beverages smattered about.  None of my suspicions were being confirmed.

Then I saw it…like a distant ship’s smoke on the horizon, the revelation was upon me.

The holdup was at the sinks.

It was like watching a biochemical process in real time.  The limiting factor was not the availability of substrates but the time necessary to get the eventual product:  clean hands.  Sinks were flowing continuously, soap was being dispensed at the beat of a drummer’s solo and the paper towels were disappearing fast.  Even the hand sanitizer was being pumped continuously.  Yet there was one factor that no physical resource can take into account…the time necessary to wash one’s hands.

As I stood there, I watched as man after man, some talking, some singing, some just taking the time to breathe, lathered up their hands, took the 15 to 20 seconds needed to ensure safety, rinsed, and then moved on to dry.  Sure, there were a few who still practised ‘zip and run like hell” but the majority were taking the time to be safe and wash their hands.

It was an amazing sight and after I made sure that I wasn’t suffering from brain damage, felt that maybe the real hypothesis was more akin to the nature of dogs and sheep .

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a study that showed that an increasing number of people were washing their hands in public.  I made the assumption that this was due to the Hawthorne Effect and that these increases were a result of the feeling of being watched (and the possibility of being reported).  Sure enough, when each man turned away from the urinal, they didn’t make an immediate bee line for the sink; they looked around first, some moving towards the exit, and then realized that they were being watched and that they were on the wrong side of us and them.

There was no real justification for this decision; there was not going to be an arrest followed by the trial of their actions and yet they still followed suit.

And so the line formed and I got to enjoy the fact that for once, and perhaps for a long time ahead, handwashing was not only for one of the few but instead was for the masses.

If this trend continues, it may indeed be some of the happiest days of our lives.