I realize that we live in a stressful time - so many people are concerned about major events such as the war, the spiraling economy and housing market, the erosion of employer loyalty in an ever-changing job environment, etc. But every once in a while you are treated so badly by your fellow person that it's enough to make you sit up and wonder aloud at what's going on. On two separate occasions within the last week I have been witness to some of the rudest actions that I have seen in recent months. Either event was remarkable by itself, but compounded so much more so by the severity of the discourteous behavior that I witnessed in such a short time.
This past week my wife and I took our children to the movies. As we pulled into the theater's parking lot, I chose a space next to a large SUV that had managed to squeeze into a space that was clearly designed and labeled for a compact car. This space was at the end of a row of cars, and I pulled in so close to the sidewalk on the opposite side of the gas-guzzling gargantuan that my tires were grazing the curb as I parked; because of this action I was able to make sure that there was still plenty of room between both vehicles for people to enter or exit safely.
After the movie we walked to the parking lot where I noticed a note attached to my windshield. I read the note aloud which stated, "I have your license information and pictures. I'll call the police if there's any damage." My initial thought was, "Oh no, someone hit my car." For some reason it just didn't register with me at first what was actually being said, so my son and I walked around our car to inspect for damage. We didn't see anything wrong, so I reread the note aloud a couple more times and then it hit me - the author of the note was threatening me not to damage their car.
Never mind the fact that this automotive monster was located in a space too small for its size, the driver of this mammoth on wheels was concerned that I might somehow injure their precious beast. I looked at my son and joked, "If I wasn't such a nice person, I'd kick the door on the other side of their car." We both laughed at the thought, and since I had parked so close to the curb on the opposite side of the behemoth, my son was able to make use of the ample room between the vehicles to open our car door and get in for the short drive home. (Note: Because of my disbelief that the parking lot event actually occurred, I kept the threatening note and it now adorns the bulletin board in my office.)
The fact of the matter is, however, that even though the driver of that SUV didn't really need to write that note, it was up to me to choose how best to react. In some aspects, this could have provided ample opportunity for an angry "Pay It Forward" approach to the rest of my evening or the days ahead. I could have left an equally threatening note, or I could have damaged their vehicle out of spite. Instead, I chose to make a short joke to voice my frustration and drove home peaceably.
But sometimes it's hard to remain so detached.
Recently I needed to catch a flight home on Southwest Airlines, which prides itself for on-time flights and unassigned seating. Since I fly on Southwest Airlines fairly often, I know that I should get to the airport a little earlier to get in line for general boarding. When I arrived at the gate, I found a half-dozen people sitting in line already, and I dropped my carryon luggage at the end of the queue and sat down in the line. Over the next hour, several other travelers showed up and orderly took their places behind each other. Occasionally a person or two would mistake where the line was and walk to the front of the line, and would happily relocate to the end of the line when notified of their mistake by the people ahead of me.
A few minutes before general boarding was to begin, a few of the passengers at the front of the line began to stand up. Right as I got to my feet, a couple walked up to the gate and proceeded to get in line in front of the row of waiting passengers. I pointed to the people that were sitting in line and said, "These people are in line already; the end of the line is back there" and motioned to the back of the queue. The would-be line jumper remarked that none of the passengers that I had just pointed to were actually standing in line, they were sitting, so therefore they weren't really in line. I informed him that all of these people had been there at least an hour already, and that he needed to relocate to the rear of the column. He reluctantly obliged after a brief and curt exchange of words with all of the surrounding passengers, albeit complaining the entire way that he travels 120 flights per year on Southwest Airlines. After taking his place at the end of the line, he loudly exclaimed in my direction, "Yeah, don't even look this way, ---hole!" I turned around and stared at him in disbelief, while the other people in line began to laugh at him for creating such a ruckus over having to board the plane perhaps one or two minutes later. Was any of this really called for?
Once again, however, this left me with the choice on how I was going to react. I could have followed his example and launched into a tirade of expletives, but why stoop to that level? (I must admit, however, that I did take advantage of a situation that happened moments later. A person came running up just as I was about to board the plane, and he was holding a large, boxed painting. He said that he was supposed to pre-board but had trouble getting through security. I could see that he had a pre-boarding stamp on his boarding pass, and I just couldn't resist the situation - I looked at him, then I looked back at the would-be line jumper, then I looked back at the gentleman with the boarding pass and said, "Please - be my guest," and gestured for him to board ahead of me.)
Okay, I must admit - perhaps the last part of that story was a bit over the top on my part, but I just couldn't help myself. But once again, the line jumper was way out of line. He was wrong, but insisted that everyone accept his behavior. When the surrounding crowd forced him to take his rightful place in line, he did so with a never-ending stream of complaints, insults, and expletives. That just isn't right.
So I have to ask the question again; whatever happened to common decency?