Thursday, July 14, 2005

Pay it Forward

I am in a great mood today compared to yesterday. I had major GIRD attack from the news regarding the Guantanamo Bay torture report. Enough of that though. I thought I would share a story with you all that was left in a comment on BooTrib by user Bearpaw. Enjoy:

Every workday, I commute into work via the Boston area subway system. For those of you who've never commuted via public transit, let me just say that on some level, it's pretty weird. Twice a day I willingly climb into a compartment that's almost always sealed, spends much of its time moving through a narrow tunnel at a fairly high rate of speed (when things are going smoothly), and I share that compartment with many people I don't know, sometimes in very close proximity. If people know each other, they may chat, but other than that most folks generally keep to themselves. When they don't ... well, the general reaction is complicated and highly context-dependant. Especially these days.

It's weird, like I said. But I'm used to it after all these years, it usually works pretty well, and it beats the hell out of driving to work.

So this morning I'm riding along, nose in a book as usual, when one of the other passengers starts singing pieces of a song out loud, presumably along with the music he's listening to on his headphones. It's a little irritating, though I'm sort of torn between wishing he'd shut up and wishing he'd sing all of the song, because it sounded like a nice song and the man has a beautiful voice. But mostly I just tune him out, and continue reading. Near as I can tell, everyone else is just ignoring him, too.

Except one guy, who eventually goes over to the man and starts trying to get him to be quiet. There's some back and forth, fairly polite, but the singer doesn't want to quiet down and the guy who wants him to be quiet is pretty insistant ... and finally threatens to call the police.

At which point I stop trying to ignore the whole thing. Call the police? Because this guy is singing on the subway? So I tap the guy on the shoulder and when he looks at me I put on my best calm-and-reasonable face, suggest that he relax, and motion him back to where he was sitting. Somewhat predictably, I suppose, he doesn't relax, doesn't sit down. He asks me if I'm kidding. I shrug and say that I prefer the singing to listening to someone chatting on their cellphone. I musta hit a nerve; the guy goes speechless. Then the doors open, he says he's getting off at that stop, in a tone that suggets that he's escaping from dangerous lunatics. He stops outside the door, shoots me a look, and tells me I "should think about this". I smile and wave, and the doors close.

Thing is, I did think about it. Until my stop, I wondered if I should've kept quiet, whether I'd done any good. Plus, I really dislike direct confrontations like that; as calm as I try to be on the outside, they always leave me shaking a little bit.

Then, as I was getting off at my stop, one of the remaining passengers caught my attention and thanked me. I smiled at her and gave a little shrug, and continued out the door.

That "thank you" is what this story is about. Sure, I spoke up, intervened in a small incident that I thought was going too far. I've already patted myself on the back, so consider that covered. This story is a pat on the back for the person who thanked me. I don't know her, and if I see her again on the subway I probably won't recognize her, so I can't pat her on the back in person. I needed that thank you. I needed someone saying, publicly, that they appreciated what I did. It made a hell of a difference in how I feel about that incident.

If you notice someone doing something nice for someone else today, being humane or considerate to a fellow human being, please thank them. The gods know that we really need to encourage that behavior in each other.

Thank you
What a great reminder on this Thursday. Imagine how much better off we would all be if we made a conscious effort to treat our fellow human beings with the dignity they all deserve? Join me in taking Bearpaw's last paragraph to heart.


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