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Head to head debate: walking speed

A winding, meandering treatise on walking slowly


The human body is a beautiful mechanism. A machine composed of a litany of cell types, organ structures, and an intricate skeleton perfectly tuned for balance, the way we move through the world is an elegant process that should be enjoyed. It’s possible for each step to feel like an indulgence. Listen to your toes as they splay out, your knee as it actuates, and your hip and it pushes your torso forward through space. It feels exceptionally good to walk — and I think that it’s an activity best done slowly. 

We do our best thinking while walking. Why do you think that, in times of extreme stress, we pace back and forth? Walking is our state of comfort, our reassuring sense of awakeness, the tactile conduit between our minds and the spatial world around us. Our brains notice more things, make more connections, create more ideas, when we explore our world at a leisurely pace, making sure not to miss anything. Whether I’m walking with a destination in mind, or with no particular goal at all, I try to walk at the pace that feels natural, and that pace is slow. Even if I’m running late for something, I’d rather be running late but entirely in tune with myself and my surroundings than running late while sad and stressed. Walking is our time for ourselves and our feet and the world around us to come together in connection. I’m not willing to sacrifice my slow pace for anything — especially something as trivial as a work shift or a zoom meeting.

Slow is a relative term. I wouldn’t call myself slow, if not for the people who pass by me while I walk, their legs moving in quick succession, the rhythm of their heels hitting the ground possessing a quick staccato rhythm. They show me what “fast” means when compared to my “slow.” It seems to me that our world is divided into those two camps — those who walk quickly, and those who walk slowly. Just the other day, while walking to a Sunday brunch, dazed and foggy from a late Saturday spent doing homework, I watched as my companions walked ahead towards the caf. While they were focused intently on our destination, I found myself looking around slowly, breathing deeply, and feeling my feet take on a wobbly, meandering path. Before I knew it, they were 30 feet ahead of me, staring back and waiting patiently for my strolling to catch up. Naturally, I picked up my pace to catch up with them. The moment showed me just how polarizing walking speed can be, though.

It’s an essential part of our identity, the speed at which we choose to engage with the world. It seems to be more polarizing than blue or red, urban or rural, right or left. As humans we have to choose — walk fast, or walk slow — and we must defend our camp with intense ferocity. I, as a proud slow walker, am not here to attack the needs and wants of those with a more destination-oriented outlook on the world. I can, however, advocate that if you haven’t before, you should give a wandering, meandering, lollygagging pace a try.

I don’t mean try it on a walk. Leaving campus and going for a journey through the natural lands is an easy moment to walk slowly. It feels right and comfortable to go slow in such a situation. No, I implore you to walk slowly through the entire day — even when your schedule might ask you to rush. If you’re running late, try reminding yourself to notice each step, to take in the patterns and notice the quirks of the world around you. Consider it your little victory over your schedule, walking slowly despite it all and soaking in all that the world has to offer — at a lovingly slow pace.

Justin Vorndran is from Osceola, Wisc.

His major is English.


Walk faster.

There is only one acceptable speed to walk, and it is just slightly slower than the speed at which you break a sweat. I am not here to meander. I am not here to stop and smell the roses. I am not chit-chatting. I am not plodding. I am getting where I’ve got to go. Get out of my way. 

Robert V. Levine and Ara Norenzayan wrote a seminal 1991 research paper entitled “The Pace of Life in 31 Countries;” They found that walking speed is strongly correlated with GDP per capita. What I mean by this is that slow walkers are a drain. It is your duty to the economy to put some pep in that step. I am moving as fast as about 400 milligrams of caffeine and all the coercive forces of capitalism can compel me to. Keep up. 

There is an exception to this need for speed— it is called “going on a walk.” You are allowed to go for a walk. Even I occasionally allow myself the guilty pleasure. When you go for a walk, you can walk as slow as you want. After all, you’re not going for a run. But please, do not confuse going for a walk with walking. They make this pretty easy for you at St. Olaf— the Natural Lands? Those are for going for a walk. The pathways on the quad? For walking. Let’s see some hustle.

John Emmons is from 

Seattle, Wash.

His majors are Chinese and political science.

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