I sat next to a group of cacophonous card players on the train this morning. I have nothing against people socializing on a long commute, but they were shouting and laughing at FULL volume, as if there were no one else on that car working or sleeping. I asked myself (as I plugged in my noise-cancelling headphones) were these people simply self-absorbed and clueless, or deliberately disrespectful?
I even tried the “polite eye contact” approach, but what I got in return was the look that said, “Go ahead and challenge me. I paid for this seat.”
It reminded me of way back in high school days, when I lived in a split-level house with my mom, step-dad and 3 brothers. We watched TV in the lower level family room, but if the door was left open, the noise would echo up the winding staircase to where my step-dad was trying to work in his home office.
He would shout “Shut the door!” whenever a careless kid would wander up to the kitchen, leaving the door wide open and Three’s Company blaring at full volume. After a few weeks of this, he got smart. He rigged a burglar alarm contact switch to the top of the door, and ran a long wire to connect it to a power switch behind the TV. If anyone opened the door, the TV went off. If you closed the door quickly, it would come back on.
The genius of this MacGuyver-style invention was that it shifted the responsibility to the offender. Instead of my step-dad having to shout downstairs, everyone else in the TV room shouted “Shut the door!” at the offender so the TV could be restored. Brilliant.
So let’s go back to my card-playing neighbors on the train. If they felt the consequences of every whoop and over-the-top laugh, they just might keep it down and become a self-policing group like we used to be in the TV room.
What if we had a technology that would send a painful electric shock or blow a horrible smell toward someone when their volume got too high on a cell phone call? Would they get the message?
Sometimes I’m amazed at the lack of consideration in public places these days. Some people must have called in sick on manners training day. I also have a healthy fear of speaking up to chastise anyone, because I might just get a gun pointed at me.
All I can control are my own actions. I choose to be considerate of those around me and I’m betting that you do too. But next time you find yourself right next to a loud talker, maybe you could choose that moment to eat your anchovy garlic sandwich with baked beans and onions on the side.
After all… you paid for that seat.