Turn off your damn phone

No iPhones!

Dear Mr. Inconsiderate,

Remember me? I’m the young man who had the misfortune of sitting next to you on the bus the other day. Yes, the bearded guy with the big nose. So you do remember me. I’m glad because I definitely remember you.

Could you do me a favour? The next time someone sits next to you, do you think you could turn off your phone and spare them and the rest of the bus the details of your love life? I mean, seriously, when you weren’t deafening me and swearing like a maniac, you were busy reading your texts aloud. Can’t you be out of touch for 10 minutes? Will the world implode?

Don’t get offended. I’m sure you’re a lovely guy when you stop shouting. I just don’t see why, when I’ve been out for hours and had a rotten day, that I should have to listen to your conversation. It’s got nothing to do with me. And I don’t want to have to listen to you having phone sex with your partner either.

The truth is I like to keep to myself. I don’t mind it if people talk around me but can’t you give me a little privacy? Perhaps talk more quietly and turn towards the window? It was bad enough when everyone’s mobiles rang at once and sounded like an opera (Wagner’s Ride of the iPhones) but with you talking near my ear the whole time, I felt like I was eavesdropping and didn’t know what to do.

I just don’t see why it’s so hard to be out of contact for a few minutes. Is something so urgent that you have to speak to someone at that moment? Cnt ur txt w8? A long time ago we didn’t even have mobile phones; I know, I’m shocked too! I think it was back in the 18th century, just before Al Gore invented the Internet. What would you have done then? Read a book?

I’m saying this because I think it’s something you should know. Maybe you’re a loud talker; maybe you’re half-deaf. Maybe you’re just a pervert who enjoys having phone sex in public. Whatever. If you show a little courtesy, it’ll come back to you. So next time you’re on the bus, could you turn off your damn phone, or at least be more discrete? I know I’ll thank you and I’m sure the other passengers will too.

One last thing. You might want to lay off the aftershave. Just saying.

Insincerely yours,
CJ Writer.


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So I might have gone a bit overboard. ๐Ÿ™‚ Do mobile phones bother anyone else, though? I hate it when people use them on buses and trains; they always start shouting and seem oblivious. Can’t I have a little peace on the way home?

And then there are those sex moan ringtones. I heard one on the bus the other day; I guess it was a joke but there were kids on the bus. I wasn’t laughing. ๐Ÿ˜•

The young and the old

Do you ever feel like you’re being watched? Like when you’re out and you get that sense that someone’s eyes are on you but when you turn around, there’s no one there? I do and it drives me crazy. I don’t like people staring at me; it makes me feel self-conscious and I can’t relax when I get that feeling.

Of course most of it’s in my head but I’ve caught people staring at me before, so it’s not always my imagination. Sometimes it’s girls (occasionally guys) and it’s funny seeing their heads jerk away when I look back, suddenly interested in a speck on the wall. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I don’t mind that as much but what I really don’t like is when people just stare for no reason.

Yesterday I had an appointment and I had to wait a while before I was seen. So I did what I normally do; I took out a notepad and started working through some ideas. After about two minutes I got that feeling and sure enough, several people were just staring at me. Not people-watching like some do, just openly staring. In the end I ignored it but when I got back home it still bothered me. It felt like they were staring at me because I was somehow out of place, and it bothered me more later than at the time.

Most of the people were older than me and I think that was part of it. Usually I don’t feel like my age is an issue with people but every now and then it is. All through school I could talk to people without them knowing my age but when they found out, suddenly my opinions didn’t have the same weight. I’ve had people doubt my age in my writing (and this blog) because I don’t sound my age when I write. And previously I’ve been told that I think too much; I should just go out, have fun and be 23. Well, what’s to say I’m not? This is who I am and if I were any different, I wouldn’t be me.

I dislike ageism with a passion. What I’ve always found interesting, though, is that most definitions of ageism describe it as discriminating against the elderly. I don’t disagree with that but to me ageism can be against any age group and we often overlook the presumptions we make about youth as well. Yes, some young people can be disrespectful, but not all of us. We’re the iPod generation but most of us study and work just as hard as anyone else. Plus we have the added pressure of trying to find homes and jobs (often for the first time) in a global market which has changed so much since 9/11. Ageism can go both ways but not everyone remembers that.

A few years ago something happened to me which is just one example. I’d been shopping with my mother and we were waiting to get the bus back home when a man (about 70) came up from nowhere and shouted at me, struck me across the shoulder and head as he brushed past, and left muttering insults about youth under his breath. I’d done nothing and was well out of his way; he targeted me, but what I remember most is that only a few people noticed. If I’d done it I’d have been up on assault charges; he did it, and for some reason I must have had it coming. If that’s not ageism, I don’t know what is.

It’s strange the way we ignore young people. We look at youth as the future; we say we want to teach them and prepare them for life, but often it’s an excuse to shape them the way we want. We crush them of their individuality and make them conform, and soon see all young people the same way. But who’s to say we really know what’s best? There’s a case in Wyoming at the moment where three 13 year old girls threw french fries during their lunch at school. The police have subsequently charged them with “hurling missiles”, an adult charge. Hurling missiles… have you ever heard anything more ridiculous? They deserve disciplining but if you give kids a criminal record for a food fight, you’ll be doing it to every kid in school. It’s a knee-jerk reaction and it’s based on the fact that people try to control children, not understand them.

My personal view is that age is irrelevant; I get on well with people of many ages and what’s important to me is mutual respect. If someone is interested in talking to me, sharing their thoughts, that’s all I’ve ever needed. It’s something people underestimate about children as well, that sometimes they just want to be engaged and have a say in things. I think Katherine Hepburn said it best: “I have no romantic feelings about age. Either you are interesting at any age or you are not.” Isn’t that so true? You either find someone interesting or you don’t; in the end, that’s all the matters, not age or anything else.

So maybe I should be flattered when someone stares at me. They obviously find me interesting in some way… even if it does feel like a scientist dissecting a rat! Maybe next time I’ll say something. Who knows, perhaps I’ll find someone to talk to, or at least will be able to write in peace… on the other hand, I’ll be 30 before I know it. Maybe then they’ll leave me alone and all I’ll have to worry about is baldness. ๐Ÿ™‚

Courage and courtesy

I’ve had a couple of strange experiences this week. Nothing that would make you wonder if it’s a full moon or something, but strange enough that they’ve stood out. They’re actually related and that’s part of what I find strange.

The first thing happened when I was finishing the last of my Christmas shopping a couple of days ago. I decided I’d get the bus back as it was late and I had a few things to carry. It was fairly busy and a mother and her baby sat in front of me. The baby seemed fascinated by my appearance. Maybe it’s the beard or maybe he thought I was particularly ugly but he just stared at me the whole time. Have you ever had a kid just stare at you? It’s freaky. I didn’t know where to look, so I looked out the window and every now and then glanced back. He didn’t move. I swear this kid could break someone in Guantรกnamo.

Anyway, after about ten minutes they started to get off, her balancing several bags and the kid in one arm and trying to pick up the stroller with her other hand. I got up and offered to carry the stroller down for her; she looked stunned that I’d offer. So I carried it down and she thanked me, but still seemed surprised that I’d want to help. I didn’t say anything but as I returned to my seat, I couldn’t help but wonder why she thought it strange that I’d help. Was it something about me that made her think I wasn’t the kind of person who’d notice she needed help? Or was she just surprised that anyone would help? I suppose I’ll never know, but no one else moved, not even the driver… I found that very strange. There were at least thirty other people on the bus and twenty near where she was sitting. Are we really so involved in our own worlds that we wouldn’t think to help a mother who obviously needed it? Or did they all think that someone else would do it? I don’t know which is worse.

The second thing happened a day later. I was out again and on my way to browse in a couple of bookshops to kill some time. A woman and I both reached the escalator at the same time; I had a little more room and probably could have gone first, but I stepped back and let her go. She looked at me with that same look on her face: half-bewilderment, half-smile, like I’d just done something very unexpected. Maybe I had but it’s actually something I do a lot, for men and women. It’s partly because I try to be polite but also because I don’t like getting bumped on the escalators; I’ve lost my balance several times when somebody’s brushed past me, so I find it easier just to let them go first.

It was only a small thing, but again it struck me as strange. Is it really so unusual that someone would do that? Are we so used to forming long queues and yelling at each other on the roads that when someone gives way, it feels unexpected?

Truthfully I wouldn’t have thought much of it, except that two similar things had happened in as many days and now it’s got inside my head. I don’t believe in coincidences and it’s made me wonder if courtesy is slowly dying. Well, not wonder; I know it is. There’s no doubt that people aren’t as polite to each other and when they are, it often feels fake. No doubt that people speak to each other more harshly and are always in a hurry; no doubt that we spend a lot of our time listening to music inside our heads, unaware of what’s going on around us… I just hadn’t realised that it had come so far as to seem strange when someone actually did a kind act. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?

What it’s made me think about as well is courage. I’ve said before that I think it’s much harder to do the right thing, to make a right decision, than it is to do the wrong thing or make a wrong decision. There are many different ways of approaching something; there might be many favourable outcomes, but I would say there are many more unfavourable ones because there are so many obstacles that can get in our way. Sometimes you need to back yourself and go ahead no matter what people say, or do something you know is right when everyone disagrees.

I’m not going to say that anything I did was courageous, but I think you need a bit of courage to perform a kind act. You need not to be afraid that you’ll make a fool out of yourself (always possible) and to believe that you can help. Sometimes you need to swallow your pride and do what has to be done. And sometimes you need to stand up for what you believe in even when it might seem better to stay quiet. How many disadvantaged people have been helped because someone took the time to listen? How many small acts of kindness have changed lives because someone had the courage to say “I want to help”? More than we’ll ever know.

Maybe I’m making a big deal out of two small experiences, but I find it very sad to think that common courtesy is becoming a thing of the past. This isn’t me lamenting the death of society or how inconsiderate people my age are; if anything I think the opposite. I just think that the way we deal with each other says so much for who we are, for who I am as a person. I can go round listening to my iPod quite comfortably and not notice anything outside of it; I bristle when someone says something harsh to me like anyone else, and I can just as easily say something harsh back. Sometimes that’s entirely appropriate. But the way I behave affects other people too; carrying a stroller or letting someone go first is such a small thing, but can make such a difference. Both those women were surprised but pleased; my doing one nice thing for them gave them a good feeling. It would have been easy for me to do neither, and it wouldn’t necessarily have been wrong, but I think the world would be a much colder and sadder place to live in without those small acts of kindness. So I help where I can.

With Christmas so near it’s simple to get caught up in the frenzy and forget about the impact we can have on other people, so I think it’s important that we make the effort to be polite and helpful if we can. It’s not easy with all the noise and music and people, but a kind word or gesture can make all the difference in someone’s day. So my resolution from now until Christmas (and beyond!) is to try and do something nice for someone each day. A stranger, a friend, whoever, I want to show that courtesy isn’t completely dead. Anyone want to join me? ๐Ÿ˜‰