Politeness: It’s the Law

My pregnant friend recently commented on how thrilled she was that someone finally took notice of her state and offered her a seat on the bus. Nevermind that to get noticed she employed the sigh-audibly-unbutton-coat-rub-belly tactic, the point is, it’s always nice – nicer than nice even – when a stranger does something polite. Especially in New York City. And especially if you’re like me and you hold the people in your life to high standards, but strangers to basically no standards at all. I mean, if I don’t get tripped, spit on, or accosted by a homeless person, I feel like I’ve  had a pretty good day amongst the masses. (That last part stems from the fact that when I was seven and on a visit to New York, a homeless man dressed as a leprechaun tried to hug me.)

Don’t get me wrong, I personally believe in treating people kindly – and I always offer up my seat to the elderly and so on – but I just don’t expect the world to operate on that same level of conscientiousness. As long as someone out there doesn’t do anything to me, I don’t take offense to whether they do something for me. That said, I can’t say I was thrilled when on the subway, a group of loud teenagers (are there are any other kind?) spread themselves comfortably on an entire row of seats, while I stood there balancing my yoga mat, tote bag, and groceries, and mumbling to myself about the loss of manners in today’s youth.

And in that way that tends to happen once I am made aware of a circumstance, I start to see it everywhere. And so I happened upon an article in The New York Times about this very topic. It seems that the MTA (NYC transit) has started a new signage campaign wherein they emphasize more strongly than before the message that giving up your seat for the disabled, “It’s not only polite, it’s the law.” I also saw a blog post by a disgruntled mom who angrily “thanked” New Yorkers for offering up their seats when she has her kids with her, and for helping to carry her baby stroller on the stairs, but she was wondering where the favors were when she was merely pregnant. This woman rubbed me the wrong way. If I came across her, I purposely wouldn’t give her my seat. I mean, what is her handicap exactly anyway? Has she not seen pictures of those women in rice paddies who have one kid strapped to their back and are in labor with another, all the while not missing a single grain of rice? And she has the nerve to complain if her fellow commuters don’t fan her with palm leaves and feed her peeled grapes because of her selfless contribution to the world’s population shortage. Oh wait…

Ok, so I’m being sarcastic. Truth is, I was happy to hear that someone offered my friend a seat on the bus, and it puts a big ol’ smile on my face when I’m the recipient of an unexpected act of kindness. And when I’m gestating the next Mother Theresa or Albert Einstein of the world, I will thoroughly appreciate when and if a total stranger (who may themselves have swollen feet for all I know) makes a proactive gesture to offer me some comfort. But you’d better be sure that no matter how hormonal I am, I won’t be mad at the public if they don’t come to my aid. I’ll do what I do now when something rubs me the wrong way – I’ll take it out on my family!

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