I still remember the time my daughter Julie, who was very annoyed, called me on her way home from Manhattan to tell me she was standing on a crowded train because no one would give her a seat. (Did I mention she was nine months pregnant?)
The train was filled with commuters coming home from work, and no one would make eye contact with her, possibly because a 20-something pregnant woman would strike fear, or guilt, in their hearts.
But I don’t want to think ill of my fellow man, especially law-abiding taxpayers who will help solve Connecticut’s budget crisis. They probably had a rationale for their rude behavior. Maybe they had a rough day in the trenches. Maybe their email accounts were hacked. Maybe their bonuses were cut, or their wives, girlfriends and/or mistresses snubbed them.
The older guys probably didn’t feel obligated to help a pregnant woman, while the younger guys may not have been taught that relinquishing your seat is the “gentlemanly” thing.
But who wants to be a gentleman in a society that adheres to the philosophy of “Me First”? Perhaps we should spend less time monitoring Donald Trump’s boorish behavior and start examining our own.
I’ve often wondered whether lack of courtesy is the result of generational differences, socioeconomic patterns, partisan politics or poor upbringing. People with the most often behave the worst when it comes to sacrificing for others. Maybe they’re “takers” by genetic disposition, or maybe they were never taught to be courteous.
I don’t want to start grumbling, BUT when I was a boy, we gave our seats, our allowances and our Hostess Twinkies to girls. Furthermore, I was cursed to have a mother who drilled the importance of manners into me like a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marines.
She even expected me to walk on the outside of the sidewalk if I was with a woman, in case a car splashed a puddle, or worse, lost control and plowed into us. That way, the woman would be spared and someday break the corporate glass ceiling and enter the CEO suite … while I’d go to my great reward in the sky, which I suppose is a small price to pay for social change.
She also expected me to hold doors open for women, no matter how old or young they were. This, of course, proved troublesome when, for example, 573 members of the Girl Scout Troop of Greater Boston came to town for the Barnum Festival. You could spend an entire afternoon holding the door.
If my mother and I were on a city bus, and a little old lady was standing, Mom would command me in a very loud voice, “Get up now and give your seat to that lady!” I was often tempted to respond, “Get up and give her your own seat!” I never did, though, because she was an advocate of corporal punishment and would have boxed my ears.
This thinking may be contrary to neo-feminist concept of self-reliance, but that’s the way we were raised, and I’ve pretty much adhered to that philosophy throughout my life, although I no longer give my seat to teenage girls or 20-something women (unless they’re pregnant) because I figure I need it more than they do. Besides, they’re usually too busy text-messaging to notice.
But change is in the air. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs Metro-North, wants people to practice good manners, especially when it comes to pregnant women and the disabled, so it is giving out buttons that say, “Baby on board!” or “Please offer me a seat” with the tagline, “Courtesy counts.”
For my part, I’d suggest a more emphatic slogan like, “Get off your #!%#@$, you lazy #!@&%* and give me that seat!” Courtesy, of course, can’t be coerced so we may have to ask politely. A similar program has existed in Great Britain since 2005, and when Kate Middleton was pregnant, she wore a pin that was handed out to riders.
I should add that my daughter’s story had a happy ending. A fellow in his 40s with five kids eventually stood up and let her have his seat as soon as he realized she was standing behind him.
Then, he told her about the time his wife, who was nine-months pregnant, came out of Starbucks in New York City, stumbled and fell, spilling the contents of her purse across the sidewalk. Sad to say, she had to scramble on her knees to pick the contents up as pedestrians scurried past her — without offering to help. God bless America. Maybe we should start taxing rude behavior.
You may contact Joe Pisani at firstname.lastname@example.org