A woman recently spoke to me about a disconcerting incident in a restaurant. She and her young children were dining in a pizza parlor. A nearby group of tipsy 20-somethings was talking loudly and using excessive profanity. They were saying f ing this and f---ing that. Iwouldnt take my kids to an R-rated movie. I didnt want them exposed to those words.
When we are in public venues, such as on sidewalks, in camping sites, in doctors offices or at airports, we expect to be free of offensive intrusions.
We dont want to hear others intimate cellphone conversations or inhale the fumes from their cigarettes. We dont like stepping over bags of unclaimed dog poop. We dont want to see the glow from a texters smartphone during a movie.
Of course, the definition of offensive can vary widely from person to person. Such factors as age, political affiliation and religious beliefs influence how we think and respond.
Current standards change. A gay couple doting over their adopted toddler is far less likely to raise eyebrows than it was a generation ago. A mother discreetly breastfeeding her baby on a park bench is a nonissue in most circles.
And some actions that dont normally pass muster are more than acceptable at the right place and time. (Think smoking a joint at a Willie Nelson concert.)
Still, certain behaviors are considered unacceptable regardless of the milieu. They tend to make folks uncomfortable, or they infringe on their personal space.
Our mothers used to tell us, Nice people dont do that.
That advice still rings true. If you wouldnt do it in front of your new girlfriends parents, you shouldnt do it in public, either.
The problem lies in informing total strangers that you feel theyve crossed the line of decency. Youre pitting your norms against theirs.
Some may appreciate your feedback, not realizing theyd overstepped. Others may resent your intrusion or completely disagree. Still others may respond with hostility.
Whatever the scenario, its a sticky wicket that requires tact and civility to succeed.
TIPS FOR COPING WITH INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR
How best to handle anothers inappropriate actions? Try these strategies:
Ignore them. Everybody commits a social faux pas now and again. You dont want to assume the role of communal police. Sure, you may disagree with your brother-in-laws racist jokes. But youre not going to change him and you dont want to ruin family gatherings. Sometimes its best to keep your mouth shut and let the misbehavior run its course.
Politely mention your concerns. Its always best to be cordial when pointing out anothers misdeeds; for example, Could you please turn your music down? My baby is trying to nap. Often a gentle touch will do the trick. Some folks honestly dont know theyre being irksome. Theyre more than happy to step back into line.
Use your discretion. Assess the situation. You may quickly determine that a polite reminder wont be nearly enough. In fact, your interference may make things worse or put you in danger. If thats the case, keep your mouth shut. Theres no use getting involved if it wont help.
Elicit help from authorities. Call the sheriff. Notify mall security. Tell the manager of the restaurant. Do whatever it takes to get the situation under control. Dont attempt to do it on your own.
Keep your temper. Going ballistic fans the fire and invites confrontation from the offenders. It also drags you into the inappropriate muck alongside them. Stay calm. Do what you can to rectify things. If you cant do anything without control, then dont.
Leave the area. If all else fails, go away. You cant change what those social oafs are doing. You can decide how youll act. Rise above their boorish antics and quietly exit the scene.
Tune it out. Sometimes youre trapped. Youre on a long flight seated next to a man with horrible B.O. Rather than getting agitated, close your eyes and calm your mind. Listen to soothing music. Relax your shoulders and your hands. This isnt the worst thing thats ever happened to you. Smile. Keep it in perspective. Know that it will end.