Yesterday I watched with a mixture of amusement and disgust as able bodied men pushed past me and a middle-aged woman to the front of the passenger line. This scene unfolded in the parking lot of a small shuttle company as we were about to board the van that would carry us across the desert back to Phoenix. Although I had arrived at the shuttle depot before most of the other passengers, the order of seating was not determined by the time of your arrival or some other rational and fair-minded method; it was dictated by the degree of brute force you were willing to use.
I'm no petite wall flower so I suppose I could have elbowed my way to the front of the line, picking-off a couple of the older and stouter men in front of me, but I didn't. I'm proud to say, "I was raised better than that." But later, as I sat in what had to be the worst seat in the van for 2 1/2 grueling hours, I begin to question whether such "high mindedness" has a place in a world where rudeness is commonplace and crudeness is tolerated, and, in some quarters, even admired.
I'm not claiming to be a saint. I've got shortcomings in the social graces department, too, but I don't take pride in my poor manners or lapses in good taste.
I frequently pepper my speech with curse words. However, such "potty" talk is generally restricted to conversations with my most intimate circle of friends. I don't speak like that in public out of respect for those who might be offended by such foul languiage. Yet, judging by the colorful words I hear coming from the mouths of perfect stangers on a daily basis, usually as they're gabbing on their cell phones, I'm part of a shrinking and, admittedly, aging minority of people who find such boorish behavior contemptible.
I think civility is part of the glue that holds the fabric of our society together. When the young won't make accommodations for the old, when the strong are unwilling to help carry the loads of the weak, when people think only of themselves and not others, we move one step closer to social anarchy.
As I drove through the sweltering desert in my uncomfortable seat, I had a flashback to an old shipwreck movie. It was a black and white movie I saw years ago; I believe it was based on the sinking of the Titanic. There is a scene where the captain, realizing his ship is sinking, orders the crew to lower the life boats. Because there aren't enough life boats to accommodate all the passengers, he tells the crew to make sure women and children leave the ship first. As the women and children are boarding the life boats, a man dressed as woman is discovered in line. The frightened and cowering man is pulled from the line by the angry crew. As he is being beaten by the other male passengers, he offers few words in his defense but finally he says, "Why shouldn't I be given a seat on the life boat. Isn't my life as valuable as theirs?"
Sitting in the back of the van looking at the men slumbering comfortably in their seats, I thought about that question in the context of my own situation. Perhaps I was being unfair. So what if these men weren't the chivalrous type? They weren't obliged to let women board first. Afterall, every paying customer male or female, young or old, was only entitled to a seat on the van -- getting a good one was another matter. Still, no matter how many times I told myself that I shouldn't begrudge the men their comfort, I kept coming back to the fact that what they did just doesn't seem right. I imagine if they're ever on a sinking ship, there'll be a lot of life boats filled with able bodied men instead of women and children.
Ivory Simone is a writer, poet, and blogger. If you'd like to read excerpts from her first novel, Havasu Means Blue Water, go to the www.authonomy.com Web site. You can also listen to a new poetry podcast she started called "Bangkok Poetry Streams". Episodes can be downloaded for free from Itunes or at: http://feeds.feedburner.com/BangkokPoetryStreams.© 2010 Ivory Simone
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