I can’t help wondering some times if I am the only one who notices our society’s growing obsession with personal comfort at the expense of public courtesy and civility. As a relatively young member of the Silent Generation (that group of Americans born between the end of World War I and the close of World War II), I have never questioned the wisdom of occasionally sacrificing public desires for the greater good of public harmony. Alas, that quaint notion seems to be less and less in evidence as I observe the public scene.
And lest there be a misunderstanding, I am not pointing the finger at any group. It is common to blame the younger generation for public misbehavior. The things I see, however, cross generations, genders and ethnic groups, and don’t seem to be the province of any particular socio-economic class. In short, what I see is that Americans are becoming publicly rude, selfish, and self-centered; a nation of two-year olds who sit at the center of a personal universe that exists solely for our own gratification.
The examples of public discourtesy are many, but I will just describe a few. I think most people will recognize these, and agree that they demonstrate a lack of civility or concern for others, or perhaps recognize themselves and resolve to at least try to be a little better.
Chief among irritating behaviors for me are the people who share their music with me on busses and subways. On the Washington subway, it is unlawful to have a recording or playback device operating without earphones. The offenders are technically within the law when they have their iPods and MP3 players going and are wearing earphones. But, when they play it loudly enough that I can hear a certain notes from ten or more feet away, they are being discourteous. That syncopated chirping is like the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard. Probably even worse; if I can hear it from that far away, they are causing permanent hearing loss to themselves.
The other Metro riders who get under my skin or those who fail to read or ignore the signs that say it is unlawful to eat or drink on the metro train or in the station. This is truly discourteous behavior as well as demonstrating a disdain for the rule of law. Crumbs and sugar stains in the cars are not only unsightly, but potentially attract rats and other vermin. They can also pose a risk to other passengers. The rider hanging on to a cup of hot coffee, a purse and a tote bag, while trying to stand in a crowded, swaying car, could end up scalding a fellow passenger. At a minimum it could generate a hefty dry cleaning bill. I once watched a young woman try to balance standing in a moving car, and take the lid off a large plastic container of some gooey red liquid contraption. The lid was on tight, and if she had succeeded, the nearest five or six passengers would have been in for a surprise. Thankfully, she gave up when she realized that she could not pry open the lid and hold onto the bar to keep her balance at the same time. In another incident, I watched two women balance a Styrofoam tray on their knees as they forked food into their mouths. They were sitting next to the “no eating or drinking” sign. At my stop I asked the station manager why the Metro Police did not enforce the rules. His response was they got tired of being sued for ticketing eaters, so they stopped writing tickets. The self-indulgent scofflaws take advantage of the cops’ desire not to be personally inconvenienced – there is a moral there, I just can’t find it.
If I have to hear half of one more personal phone call in a public place, I will silently scream. I won’t make noise because that would be impolite. People who conduct loud conversations on mobile phones in public places are extremely inconsiderate. First, they are inflicting me with information that I don’t want or need to know about their personal lives, loves and desires, and secondly, they are only giving me one side of it which is very frustrating.
The various types of mobile phones are among the most important, yet dangerous inventions of the modern era. They help people keep in touch in ways never before possible. Problem is, they are addictive. How many times have you seen someone crossing a busy intersection, busy texting or talking on the phone and oblivious to their surroundings? I was once crossing a street, with the light, when a driver in an SUV blew past me and ran the light, apparently unaware of my presence. Luckily, I wasn’t texting or talking on the phone, so I was able to jump back and avoid becoming a hood ornament.
I fly a lot, and since September 11, 2001 and the recently skyrocketing gas prices, it has become a less than pleasant experience. Fellow passengers, obsessed with their personal comfort and unconcerned about others contribute to the problem. Ever notice how many people of all ages travel with back packs? With many airlines now charging for checked luggage, I predict the numbers will increase. Many of my fellow passengers apparently stuff everything they can into their packs because they protrude two to three feet from their backs. That makes them an effective bludgeon as you make your way to your seat on the plane. Every time you swivel you bean the poor slob seated in the aisle seat. I have yet to have someone apologize for this bodily assault.
The other travel pest is the individual with the wheeled case who insists on rolling it in a crowd, most often over spots already occupied by other peoples’ feet, instead of picking it up and carrying it.
I could go on and on, but then I risk becoming what I detest – someone who indulges in what is pleasing, and ignores the feelings of others – a publicly rude person. So, I will stop here and just ask that everyone look closely at how our public behavior affects the people around us. The Golden Rule is a good guide – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Causes Charles Ray Supports
The Nature Conservancy
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial