Other people’s needs

By Caitlin Kelly


Silence! Solitude!


Rant alert!

Unless you live (as some of you do!) in a rural and isolated area, we’re literally bumping into one another all day every — in stores and elevators, on the subway and bus and streetcar, at the movies and opera and theater, at work and in the park, in our houses of worship, at airports and bus stations and the grocery store.

To stay sane, to function as a civilized human being, means being aware of how our behavior affects others all around us.

I’m getting burned out by a growing (?!) epidemic of selfishness, rudeness, destructiveness and endangerment — I see people driving and texting every day.

A few recent examples, some personal, some not:

The three young men who thought it amusing to destroy an ancient rock formation in Oregon, their behavior caught on video.

— The family of six, with screaming baby and out-of-control seven-year-old boy who ignored two staff requests to be quieter and more considerate and much annoyed shushing from fellow diners and death stares from the rest of us.

— The cafe patrons in my gentrifying suburban New York town, (where some riverside apartments now sell for $1 million), who blithely leave the front door open, not even stopping to consider the heat and noise that inflicts on those already sitting inside.

— The bro’s at the gym, apparently illiterate, (signs on the wall forbidding it), who heave and grunt with effort then let their weights smash into the floor with a terrifying crash.

— The ((*^$@@@ at our Japanese music concert, whose music was so quiet and subtle I could hear the man next to me digesting, whose cellphone on vibrate kept humming. It was so bad the host had to remind everyone at intermission that “silent mode” isn’t.

Our restaurant meal ended up a disaster; the food was expensive, the atmosphere chaotic and we’d dressed nicely, anticipating a relaxing night out. It wasn’t! We arrived at 7:30 and the noisy party didn’t even leave, (one patron even applauded when they did), until 9:00 p.m.

I wrote a polite two-page letter, with four suggestions how to avoid such a mess next time, to the restaurant manager.

I didn’t just dump a nasty Yelp review; I wanted to give them the chance to respond.

He did, quickly and well. We spoke, civilly, for about 20 minutes. He apologized, assured me that it wouldn’t happen again and gave us a $75 credit for our next visit.


But this selfish behavior is rampant…and it’s ruining too many of our daily interactions.


It’s a tough call.

No one, (and you all know me to be feisty!), is anxious to confront people who are already making clear they’re rude and obnoxious, in the vain hope they suddenly won’t be, let alone think of apologizing.

They’re so oblivious to the needs of others, even as they share public space with us all.

And sometimes our friends or partners hate it when we do speak up.

Do you ever confront someone behaving badly?

How did it turn out?

Here’s a recent New York Times story about how bad it can get; the writer is describing her own encounter with a nasty little boy in a terrific, classic Manhattan restaurant, Knickerbocker, one of my favorites:

Then I put on my invisible Urban Avenger costume, muster my courage for a confrontation with a thunderbolt-throwing, flesh-eating, but otherwise pleasant New York City mother, and as Herb beats it out the door because he knows what’s coming, walk over to the table and ask the adults which one of them is the mother.

“You don’t seem to be aware of this, but for the last 20 minutes your kids have been annoying the entire restaurant,” I tell her. “This isn’t a playground. If they can’t behave like adults, they shouldn’t be in here.”

Now, here is where it gets weird. This New York mother doesn’t scream at me or insult me. She doesn’t apologize. She just makes a request.

“Could you tell that to [the spawn we will call] William?” she says. Then, turning to the largest kid, “William, this lady has something to say to you?”

What? Now I have to be the enforcer? How did this happen? Urban Avenger’s job is to tell people how to bring up their children, not to do it herself. William, meanwhile, is standing there looking at me…

“William,” I say, as sternly as I can, “you’ve been bothering everybody in here. This is not a playground, it’s not a place for you to run around and yell.”

William doesn’t bat an eye.

29 thoughts on “Other people’s needs

  1. OH BOY- DO I hear you! The only thing worse is if you and your husband are paying for a sitter and subjected to others’ little rug rats on a rare night out! How about brining them to the hair salon where they spend an hour crying and running around or the classic, and now common, mommy and me pedicures where you get to listen to some kid’s cartoon on the i-pad? And yes, I raised 4 kids.

  2. I honestly believe that a degree of this bad behaviour results from the fact that so few mothers are stay at home mothers these days (or fathers though they lack the skills) The people the children are left with do not feel it’s their job to provide discipline or lessons in how to behave.
    Discipline starts in the home and then should be continued in school, preferably with lessons on consideration for others. It may seem outmoded now but maybe the lessons of Victorian times where manners were taught should see a reprise.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx.

    1. Well, I wouldn’t suggest that only women are to blame! Many women have to work (living costs!) and many enjoy working, so I don’t agree with you on that point.

      I do wish whoever is caring for these children would make it very clear that public space is public — and everyone needs to enjoy it, not just a few.

  3. Pingback: Other people’s needs — Broadside | Le Bien-Etre au bout des Doigts

  4. It does seem like a growing problem. (Dare I mention the “E” word — entitlement? Maybe people feel they are entitled to keep their phone on or bring their unruly children to expensive restaurants or stand in the subway doors so no one else can board.)

  5. it all can be very annoying, to say the least. i have grown children, small grandchildren and teach kinders. it has nothing to do with having or not having children. it’s simple manners, etiquette and thoughtfulness. the adults should model the behavior they expect and follow through when the little ones learning from them cross the line. i’m not prude, but i do have a certain expectation of adults and children both, and it has to do with not believing you are more important and entitled than anyone else, and having respect for others. i really have a low tolerance for this.

  6. My parents have lived on both the East Coast and in the Midwest. They tell me people are more considerate here, and, having only lived in the Midwest for most of my life (summers at camp in New York don’t count, I don’t remember living in New Jersey at 3 years old, and I was only in Germany for four months), I can only say that people around here are usually very considerate. Though the other night one guy’s car was weaving in his lane because he was on his phone. Not sure if he was texting or just lost.

    1. I’ve heard this about the Midwest and it may well be true — life in some places (no excuse for rudeness, but…) is so stupidly expensive, crowded and stressful I think people take it out on one another.

      I see a lot of entitled behavior here in people with $$$$$ who somehow assume we’ll all just put with it because…Really tiresome.

      1. And as for the parents, they should do what my mother did with me: make a threat to leave, and then follow through. According to Mom, I was throwing a tantrum in a supermarket, and she threatened to take me home without groceries if I didn’t calm down. I didn’t calm down, and left right then and there, leaving a full shopping cart behind. We didn’t return to the store for a while, and the next time we did, I knew that Mom wouldn’t kid around.
        Perhaps the problem with some of these parents is not that they don’t want to administer discipline, it’s that they don’t want to administer discipline while at the same time depriving themselves. If that’s the case, I say this: you’re a parent. The moment you took the kid in and decided to raise it, you were depriving of yourselves of a lot of things. Get used to it already.

      2. Ad you know, Jose and I don’t have kids. But we were raised by those with pretty strict standards — Jose is a PK, a preacher’s kid (something you may know about as well!) so he had the extra pressure, in a small city, of everyone knowing he was a pastor’s son and they expected him to behave well.

      3. Um, no. 🙂

        He was actually the captain of the safety patrol in school…which is very much his nature, to be protective. He had 2 older sisters and Santa Fe was so small there was only one high school, so there was no hiding to be done, nor much chance for rebellion. It helped him have a great career at the NYT, which is hardly a hotbed of radicals,

        I’m the rebel in our family.

  7. I’ll add people who are perfectly able to walk but won’t get out of their car to ring a doorbell. Instead, they rev their engines, beep their horns and yell (mostly visitors to the building next door). My other pet peeve, which is far more of an issue, is drivers who ignore pedestrian crossings. I’ve been on a crossing and had a van ignore the lights, and my family. It was just luck we weren’t hit. Hardly a week goes by but I have to deal with a driver ignoring a crossing. I am pretty sure it comes from this same place of not caring or paying attention and being deeply selfish – like the people who insist on texting while driving. At the extreme end, rudeness can prove fatal.

    1. YES.

      I have impaired mobility (again), with knee instability, so am moving a little more slowly than normal. We have a VERY busy main street in our town and cars routinely race through the crosswalk even when someone is in the middle of it — totally illegal and really dangerous.

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