Monday, October 08, 2007

Common Courtesy

I have found common courtesy to be none too common, and it pisses me off. Is it so hard to hold open a door? Does English language instruction no longer include please and thank you? Has the Internet caused people to believe they are alone in the world? Today, Seren and I were in Lowes. Most days find Seren and I in Lowes at least once. And most days the people in Lowes know we're there. Seren has taken to spontaneous screaming, usually when she is in a good mood but, a little bored. Seren has not yet been won over by the charms of Lowes, with the exception of the ceiling fan aisle, so unless I am shopping for ceiling fans, we are putting on some variation of our two man (man being used in its broadest incarnations) show. Today was no exception. Instead of shopping for ceiling fans, I bought paint from a trainee (we were rolling around on the paint counter by the time my paint was ready) and wallpaper remover, which was hiding in the wallpaper aisle. I had two or three other items on my list, but I am a realist. Besides, if I bought every item on my list today, what would I look for tomorrow? Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), by the time we made it to the cashier we were acting out a scene from King Kong (I was the skyscraper). We were third in line. Directly in front of me were a rather plump couple with a cart full of stuff, lots of little stuff. It turns out they were in the midst of putting together a bedroom for their daughter. They smiled at Seren, and then proceeded to take their turn at the cashier. Seren smiled back, and then resumed swatting at the planes which apparently were circling rather close to my ears. Apparently they were raised by wolves; wolves with really well stocked hunting grounds. It never occurred to them to let the man being climbed by a toddler and purchasing two items go first. In my charitable moment, which was long after I loudly instructed Seren on the importance of common courtesy, I concluded that they were either deaf or victims of some doctor that was nostalgic for the era of the lobotomy. Maybe people are just so self-centered, that other people and their needs just never occur to them. It just strikes me as so easy to acknowledge that there are people sharing the world with you, and to treat those people with a modicum of respect and generosity. I don't have textual support for this contention. I don't need it. It just seems to be something I can do that makes the world a nicer place for me and my children to inhabit. Really it's selfish. I want to be let into the flow of traffic when I'm merging in from a side street, so I let other people in. I wish there was some way I could make America a more considerate place. I can teach Seren how to behave, but that would seem to have a limited impact. Yelling and cursing at people, while satisfying, is almost always completely ineffective. Maybe there is nothing I can do but be pissed. That I do really well.


Leena said...

Maybe they just believe in "waiting your turn"?

This post strikes me as very self-centered.

Sam said...

Dear Leena,

It may be self centered. I may be self centered. But, I'm not sure you can tell it from this blog entry.

Waiting your turn is a good rule, in general. Like all rules, however, it shouldn't be applied 100% of the time. This is the underlying point of my blog. Context is important. If the person behind me in line at the grocery store is sick, I let them go first. If they have dogs in the car waiting on them and I have two grocery carts full of groceries, I let them go first. If someone is behind me in line at Lowes and struggling with their toddler, while I have a cart load full of stuff, I let them go first. To me it's really pretty simple. What isn't so simple is why this is so clear to me and not so clear to you, and I find that interesting. In fact I find it interesting enough to write about.

So, I may be self centered, but this blog isn't great evidence of it. Your letter, however, is evidence of several things. First, it suggests that you aren't a close reader, because I think everything I just said is in the blog. Second, it is irrefutable evidence that you don't have children. If you were a mother, you never would have written that comment. Third, I think it shows an inability to connect disparate situations. Failing to acknowledge the needs of others in line at the home improvement store doesn't seem like a big deal. And viewed in isolation it isn't. That attitude, however, is the same one that causes Americans to ignore the plight of people in Darfur, Iraq, Palestine, or Myanmar. It is the same intellectually lazy self centered ignorance that causes people to label all Muslims as terrorists or misogynists. I find it striking that you, of all people, would condone it.

I would be interested in hearing more if you still believe my position to be self centered, because I have a great deal of trouble understanding how that could be the case.

Thanks for your comment!


Leena said...

I can hardly believe my tiny comment was interesting enough to write THAT much about.

I still think your post and reaction to these people was self-centered because you believe you "deserved" the space in front of them, simply because you had a wild kid and only a few items.

You didn't say whether or how you determined if their "need" was greater than yours, it seems you just assumed that you "deserved" their spot. You mentioned the importance of please and thank you, but did you ask them nicely if you could go ahead?

I'm also a supporter of letting others go ahead if they are in need, but I prefer the attitude of: "Can I go before you? I only have two items". To your thoughts about them: "You must have been raised by wolves! You must be lobotomy patients!"

If I knew that the guy with the annoying screaming child behind me wanted to cut ahead (but didn't ask?) and kept "loudly instructing" his child about "courtesy" because I didn't automatically surrender my position would later blog that he thought I was a fat, braindead animal, I would be much less likely to help him out.

If having children turns me totally inconsiderate enough to think that I deserve the front spot and anyone who doesn't surrender it is a moron, I'm proud to not be a mother. (You'll be happy to know I don't want to be one anyway.)

The rest of your observations about me are wrong.

Leena said...

I just remembered how I found your blog. You had started posting your thoughts about the Quran, but I guess you stopped?

I apparently hadn't been keeping up with you, or else after seeing this post, I wouldn't have made my first comment. :-)

Sam said...

Dear Leena,

For the record, I was right about the close reading. You saw the words of my blog (or you went back and looked at them), but you missed the meaning. First of all, my talk to my daughter in their presence was out of line. I knew it when I did it and I know it now. I admitted it in the blog (did you miss that part?). I have a temper, a fact I readily admit to and have long been working to change. This is why when it happens I am eager to admit that it happened. Second, the admission of my anger and the comments about being raised by wolves and such were part of a very deliberate attempt to reveal the uncertainty of these issues. The reason I find these issues of etiquette interesting is that when divorced form their religious underpinnings they are often unclear and contradictory. That was the subtext and the irony in the piece. I'm sorry you missed it, but I'm not surprised. I purposely didn't mention it in my first response, because I was curious as to whether you would pick out those examples as evidence of my 'self centeredness or rudeness.' You did.

As far as the issue of etiquette is concerned, maybe you are right that I haven't put enough consideration into the situation of the folks in front of me in line. I did spend some time observing them, though, and they didn't appear to be in a hurry. They were still at their car as I drove out of the parking lot. They also weren't awful people. They smiled at my daughter, and were quite pleasant with the cashier. My only point was that they weren't terribly aware of the other people they were sharing that particular space with.

I think people should be more aware of the needs of others, and more ready to help out. I'm not sure why though, and I haven't come up with a good way of identifying when. I am trying, because I am fascinated with the idea of morals. I want to be able to point out some code of morals to my daughter, but I'm not sure what that would be. This blog has become my attempt to tackle these issues.

I haven't stopped blogging about Islam, at least not permanently. I am too fascinated for that to be the case. In fact, if you hadn't responded to me, I was going to blog about a ridiculous piece by Steven Emerson that I read in the BottomLine. I think there is much in Islam, and in the reaction of many Americans to Islam, that I can use in the future to teach my daughter about the world and how she should carry herself in it.

As far as kids go, some day the annoying screaming child will be someone you love (whether or not it is one you produce), and you'll realize that all children scream. It is unavoidable. When you're seventeen months old and have a ten word vocabulary, sometimes screaming is necessary to gain your dad's attention. And I will stick with my assertion that if you had kids you would have seen the post differently, but that could be because I would have seen it much as you did before I was a father. Our own experience limits us, but often it is all we have to go on.

Thanks for your response, I enjoyed reading and responding to it.