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The bus: A bastion of rudeness?

July 8th, 2007

When I take the bus, I become a pessimist. I begin to envision the downfall of our so-called polite Canadian society.

One particular day, when I was standing in the aisle, a couple of very elderly, frail women tottered onto the bus like a pair of ill-guided marrionette puppets. The entire front section, which is supposed to be reserved for seniors and those with disabilities, was full of teenagers and young adults. None of whom got off their duff. So, being an assertive (some might say aggressive) person I asked a couple of young adults if they would move to give their seats to the tottery ladies. My suggestion was met with a scoff and a scowl, with an added snarky “I have arthritis, okay?” At this, I didn’t know what to reply. I have heard of arthritis which diseases young people so I said something like, “oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize”, to which I recieved several more saucy comments and looks. Maybe that 20-something did have arthritis. Probably not.

Experiences like the one above cause me to wonder about parenting, and on a larger scale, about our society. Are people not taught to respect others, and to look out for and protect the weak? Our culture greatly disrespects old age. If you rifle through any magazine or flip through TV channels, it is apparent that we adore and respect youthfulness, not wisdom and experience. Is the reluctance to give up one’s seat for an elderly person a manifestation of our culture’s obsession with youth? Or are parents failing these days to equip their children with very a basic knowledge of etiquette and social behaviour?

Another day I was on the bus when a man who appeared to have some kind of mental illness or addiction -he was rapidly muttering to himself – plunked himself across a row of seats. It was raining outside and his shoes dripped muddy water all over the cloth seat. I was aware that other passengers were getting annoyed with his actions. I heard many people sighing and saw several eyes rolling in the man’s direction, but no one said anything. I think people were afraid. He did seem an unpredictable type. I was nervous also, but I felt that someone needed to say something to him about his behaviour. So, I decided that a soft confrontation was needed. Something that wouldn’t get the guy’s back up, but would illustrate that it’s not okay to make a bus seat wet and dirty for the next unknowing passenger’s backside. So, I said, “Hmm, somebody’s going to have a wet seat”. The man looked at me with an aggravated face and said “what?” I responded by asking, “oh, your shoes aren’t wet?”. The man peered at his shoes, glanced at me, and promptly sat up straight, with his dripping feet on the floor.

My frustration that day was directed at both the wet shoe man and also at the other passengers on the bus who were clearly uncomfortable with his actions, but unwilling to say anything. Is there no such thing as a polite confrontation anymore? Perhaps this is an outcome of our sensationalist media, which feeds us the idea that confrontation in our society is simply not safe any longer, that conflict with strangers results in somebody shoving a shotgun to our head or plunging a knife into our belly. I am often frustrated with people’s lack of assertion on the bus. Is it really doing someone a favour to let them act so poorly? Politeness is not about never conflicting or confronting. It’s about respecting the other person. I feel that I actually respected the shoe man more than the others on the bus. I respected him enough to express myself to him in a nice way. I expected more out of him, mentally ill, addicted or not.

As you can see, the people’s behaviour on the bus make me think. I often get pessimistic when such glaring rudeness and ignorance is displayed. But I have to remember those few people who bounce out of their seats at the sight of an elderly, pregnant or handicapped person. Or my tiny friend who angrily (and righteously) confronted a large group of menacing, loud gay-bashing young adults and forced them, and their fear mongering ways, off the bus. So, there are people out there who are polite and who will stand up for what’s decent and right. I just wish there were more of them.

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