A Concise Ethics Rant On A Chance Encounter While Walking Rugby

It was cloudy and rumbling, and Jack Russell Terriers are notoriously difficult if they don’t get at least one good walk every day. So I decided to try to beat the rain and get Rugby out for a swing around the neighborhood. It kept getting darker, windier, and the distant thunder was getting louder. Rugby was in fine fettle, I must say, though he felt compelled to pee on every bush, rock, or tuft of grass. I have never seen a dog who seemed to enjoy a walk so much. I wish there was something, anything, I could get that excited about every day.

We were in the home stretch, about to loop around the church that faces our house across a parking lot and a row of trees. Then a young woman, maybe in her 20’s, dressed for the task, jogged toward us, pony tail swinging. She had that cold, stony, “I don’t want to acknowledge anyone” look on her face that so many younger people cultivate today. I looked at her and smiled anyway. That was how I was brought up, you see. We acknowledge each other. We signal good will, and that we are part of the same community. We are nice.

As she jogged past, I said, certainly loud enough that she could hear me, “Don’t get caught in the rain!” That is an incidental, spontaneous, friendly comment between strangers. I must engage in, and respond to, dozens of such comments a week, while shopping, teaching, or walking the dog.  They require a response: a nod, a smile, a brief answer like “I won’t!” What I got was a snub. No response at all.

I felt like I was being treated like an unfamous Morgan Freeman, as if my statement was, “Hey, honey, good form!” I wasn’t flirting with her, or harassing her. I was being a human being, and doing what human beings need to do to make life bearable.  And I felt insulted.

Yup, I’m old enough to be her father…grandfather, even. That, I was taught, makes showing some respect, like acknowledging that I spoke to her in a friendly, neighborly manner, even more mandatory as an ethical social response.

If this is where feminism, #MeToo, and  generational bias is leading young women today, they will poison the next iteration of our society, not cure it.

Meanwhile, I am pondering whether there is an ethical, effective follow-up response to the next jogger who treats me like a turd on the sidewalk.

The options I am thinking now clearly would not be  constructive.

119 thoughts on “A Concise Ethics Rant On A Chance Encounter While Walking Rugby

  1. I had a test a few days ago at Pine Hills in Plymouth, MA. Pine Hills is an upscale community with a series of running/hiking/walking trails that are interwoven into the community fabric including two golf courses. The trails usually have an abundance of folks taking advantage of the serene setting. So I went for a run. I crossed paths (pun intended) with 11 singles or couples. With eight I said, “good morning and rain is on the way!” (It was overcast and dank). Everyone responded. A few made a quick (positive) comment. The three I ignored had noticeable sound devices worn like some mechanical yarmulke. This is not unusual in getting a response. I trail run in places that have human traffic and often it is a nod, a quick comment, or a smile. Based on my intensive and highly accurate survey I feel comfortable stating that the young woman in question may be manners deficient.

  2. Jack, even when I find the Ethics Alarms challenging, I always must concede that it’s because you’ve posited a well informed viewpoint that makes me rethink some long held belief. But with the deep love I have for you, this one post strikes out, and I beg you to reconsider it. Apart from everything else, the woman, according to the evidence presented in the story, wasn’t EVEN rude! She simply didn’t acknowledge, which is 100% within her inalienable rights, and beyond being attributable to a myriad of things that are NONE OF OUR BUSINESS, could also be chalked up to a misinterpretation. What if, at the tail end of feeling offended and worried about the future of all interpersonal communication, you learned through a random source that this very woman had lost her parent/friend/job/hope hours before and set upon a jog in order to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING to simply move forward? Would that information give leeway to simply allow her her own interrupted thoughts? I would certainly think so. And what if you were the well meaning cheerful gentleman you are, but you were only one man in a string of 10 to have approached her, and the last 9 were lewd and offensive in a way that you could not possibly imagine being to a neighbor? Surely, given that knowledge you’d forgive the perceived slight.
    We don’t know the private war others are fighting. We have to allow our fellow humans the space for what we aren’t seeing. AND YET The women of the #metoo movement are offering us men full access to the battle we are unable to see. If we can only listen to what they are telling us.
    This is an opportunity for US to be better community members, NOT for THEM to be.

    • Mike Messer wrote, “We don’t know the private war others are fighting.”

      That’s true, but we shouldn’t use that kind of thinking as a rationalization to to justify rude behavior. Completely ignoring someone that is being cordial to you is being rude, a simple acknowledgement of the other persons effort to be cordial would suffice.

      • Zoltar Speaks, I think this is one of the central points of disagreement, that someone is obligated to acknowledge any and all interactions, and that it’s a social slap to not do so. We don’t offer niceties for the sole purpose of reciprocity, nor do we do kind things of any sort for the same reason. We give to the world and allow the world the autonomy to accept or reject our deeds. It’s not a social contract. And if it is, we must accept that everyone has their own reasons, and we must not take these things personally. Doing so puts undue responsibility upon others, which in itself can be considered rude.

        • Mike Messer wrote, “Doing so puts undue responsibility upon others, which in itself can be considered rude.”

          So in the society that surrounds you, cordially saying something like “hello” to someone and expecting some kind of acknowledgement is an undue responsibility on others and can be considered rude? Okay Mike, if you say so it must be true for you but I’ve got to say that yours seems like a bizarro world to those of us out here in the heartland. You must live in a major urban area like New York City.

          Personally I think being part of a society has inherent responsibilities and obligations to be reasonably cordial with those around them and I think too many people in the United States today shirk their responsibilities and obligations. I also think that portable hand held communication devices are in the process of destroying healthy human social interactions and people are becoming socially inept.

          • Zoltar Speaks, yes indeed….I live in exactly the urban area you guessed, and yes, if your town is as Midwest quiet as I think you’re describing, my social landscape is very VERY different from yours. I would imagine for every social interaction you are afforded, I am afforded twenty. We share, every day, with hundreds of strangers, all with agendas, a physical proximity that you may only reserve for intimacy.
            I’m an extrovert of the first order, a caucasion male, of sturdy build. I’m interested in people and all the weirdness that every one of us brings to the table. These things makes me uniquely qualified to thrive in this environment. I usually don’t wear headphones because I’m interested and not intimidated as to who and what approaches me… and the truth is, 8 out of 10 people who do approach me want something. My money, my attention, they want to sell me something, whatever it may be. Its OVERWHELMING, and even I do a fair amount of ignoring. I have to choose who I decide to give my money to, who I choose to give my attention to. You get real good real quick at being discerning.
            EVERY WOMAN THAT I KNOW… repeat: EVERY WOMAN THAT I KNOW has all of that to deal with AND the unyielding agenda of being wanted for what they are as an object. Many are smaller than the men who approach them, and ALL live with the consistient reality that harm and/or rape potentially exist on the other side of all those interactions. This is not something that I, as I described myself above, deal with. And they are in NO WAY Being paranoid. This is reality. So I begrudge NO ONE their social discernment, and I would never paint a woman as rude for exercising blanket discernment. EVERY, again, EVERY woman I know carries her social defense kit: sunglasses, headphones. These are DO NOT DISTURB signs, and they only work so well. My wife, just yesterday, on our block, lowered her sunglasses to say a friendly “hello” to a neighbor. He stood up, followed her to our stoop and remained outside yelling for her to come back out. On our stoop, outside our window.
            ALL she was trying to do was enjoy the privilidge that I get to enjoy every day, of being nice and neighborly, without fear for her safety.
            So it’s not rude, it’s survival. This is our world. It’s not even, it’s not fair, it’s not egalitarian, and it is NOT IN ANY WAY THESE WOMEN’s Faults. The onus is on US to do better and to create a world that is better. And the first step is to not make ourselves the victims when we see someone behaving in their own self interests. These women are not being uncivil. They are being wise.

                • Extradimensional Cephalopod wrote, “If being rude is necessary for survival, is it still unethical though? Methinks not.”

                  Please notice that I haven’t stated that being rude is unethical.

                  • Your own actions fail the Kantian test even more so than her actions. If everyone tried to start conversations with everyone that they walked past, life would be a far greater hell than the one where everyone ignores random people trying to start nonsense conversations with them while they trying to keep to their own business.

                    • Applying Kant to such micro-encounters distorts his value and relevance, but I’ll play: we currently have a society where increasingly people walk along absorbed in their cell phones, with ears budded, wearing masks that block even facial cues, smiles or signals. If you think that’s healthier than breaking through social isolation with a greeting or exhortation to a stranger, you’re welcome to your opinion, but it’s an ignorant one that ignores reality as well as human nature.

              • No, dude. It’s not rude at all. the simple fact is that you’re actually the one being rude by demanding the attention that no one owes to you. You would do well to turn your scrutiny upon yourself.

        • Mike…I’m cross-posting my comment from the Facebook exchange…

          [You wrote:” What if, at the tail end of feeling offended and worried about the future of all interpersonal communication, you learned through a random source that this very woman had lost her parent/friend/job/hope hours before and set upon a jog in order to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING to simply move forward?”] Any rude behavior from a stranger can be rationalized that way, no?

          [What you wrote,]”but you were only one man in a string of 10 to have approached her, and the last 9 were lewd and offensive in a way that you could not possibly imagine being to a neighbor?” was the rationalization I heard from white neighbors on Capitol Hill when they explained why they treated neighborhood blacks like something sticking to their shoe. “These people always are up to no good. Why the last 9…”

          Understanding WHY people decide to be adversarial to an entire group isn’t the same as justifying it. Just as each individual human being should be engaged based on what he or she is and does, not based on the misconduct of others, so victims of abuse have to be able distinguish between friends and foes, or at least try.

          Bottom line: I did absolutely nothing to justify the jogger’s hostility except to exist, and to be male. Sure, she had a right to treat me like that—ethics isn’t about rights, as I know you know, unless someone is violating them. I say hello to strangers on the street. If I see a lightning strike, I warn them. I smile. That’s how communities and trust are built. And when the reaction I discern is “Screw you, old man,” I take offense. But I will still treat the next female jogger (or male one) as a fellow human being (with a clean slate) , and not be rude to her because of how the “last 9” may have acted.

          • except that she wasn’t hostile. She just didn’t give you what you expected, and you interpreted that as hostile.

            • (She was hostile.) I have an eye-witness. Me. Like all of us who walk dogs in a lively and active suburban neighborhood in Northern Virginia, random exchanges with strangers are commonplace. Sometimes the dog-walker initiates it, sometimes the other party. 99% of the time the exchanges are pleasant and neighborly. Sometimes they are long. Sometimes they expand into future friendships. People who behave like you are farting in a library for daring to speak to them are rare. They are known as “assholes.”

              This obviously doesn’t apply to New York City. I should have made that clear.

              • And what of the eye witness who was her? The entire point of this story is that you have your experience and everyone else has thiers. You were offended by her not behaving as you would dictate it so… annnnnd… so what? I will tell you that NYC is the most social place on earth. We take care of each other, we involve each other in each other’s conversations and we also know that what’s really the height of politeness is respecting each other’s space. Somehow, we manage. You all in the ‘burbs could learn a lot from us.

                • I re-read the original post and I can’t find any description of aggressive or rude behavior, on her part, described. Was there more to the story?

                    • This seems to be the most effective place to get a hold of you! Please call me, Jack for some unrelated stuff 🙂

                • That is a culture born of necessity and distrust. Making eye contact in NYC is dangerous—a homeless guy once came after me because I looked at him and caught his eye.

                  I don’t dictate manners and decency. They have objective, societal standards. We don’t get to decide that it’s good manners to shout suggestive compliments at women passing by, and the norm of acknowledging other human beings you encounter isn’t some kind of weird new invention. It’s how communities are built and are strengthened. Yeah, maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she was deaf. Maybe she was mugged by the last person who spoke to her on the sidewalk. That’s why I didn’t follow up her snub with another comment.

                  We all have an obligation to enforce standards, Mike. About six months ago, I was behind a creep who kept talking on his phone while busying something at a 7-11. He never looked at the clerk at all, or said a word. And I stopped him outside and said, “You know, those are people, not robots. You can at least look them in the eye and say, “Thank you.” I’ve been a clerk. It makes a difference.”

                  And it does.

    • “This is an opportunity for US to be better community members, NOT for THEM to be.”

      Boy, I could write 10 ethics posts about that quote alone.

      1. The fact that victims are victims doesn’t relieve them of basic ethical responsibilities, like fairness, respect and civility.
      2. I am an impeccable community member and unerringly respectful and welcoming to women. If they do not reciprocate and instead radiate hostility (social snubbing is still rude, Mike) then they are the ones who have something to learn.
      3. This sentiment is the basis of the current effort to stratify members of the public, with some being allowed to engage in anti-social conduct by virtue of race, ethnicity and gender. That’s a great way to promote social discord, and I reject it.

      Actually, there are more than ten….

      • No one should ever be rude to you, Jack…. and I know you will remain ever unerringly polite, jovial and charming, no matter how you perceive another’s behavior. (Calling people “idiots” online notwithstanding 🙂 ) I just am not seeing, given the evidence presented, where she was out of line enough to have truly offended. Remember that scene in Crocodile Dundee when he tried to tip his hat and give a “G’day” to every one of thousands of New Yorkers on the crowded street, and not one so much as looked at him? They just were coming from different realities. And our Aussie friend never lost his overly tanned smile.

        • Now we’re getting somewhere: because I do remember that scene, and what it meant to me was “Here is someone from a culture that is ethical in ways this culture is not, and his estrangement from it should tell us something.” And now I do have something that needs a whole post to explain; thanks! Short version: falling into unethical patterns of behavior because of cultural influences is easy, and we all are subject to it under the right circumstances. When I was a law student, my upper-class, Yalie, Democrat activist room mate became upset because he was increasingly suspicious and hostile to the African-Americans who were the majority in our neighborhood. Why? Because he was mugged, and robbed, he say crime everywhere, because we were burglarized and verbally harassed, because young black man tried to stare him down and intimidate him. All sorts of unethical conduct can be justified as “survival”; that was one of the themes of The Godfather. If we are to have a more ethical society, then each individual has to commit to resisting the drift to anti-social responses, and yes, that involves trust and some risk. Doing the right thing almost always involves trust and risk.

          • I knew all I had to do was quote an 80’s comedy!!! And I do look forward to that post, if only for the aussie puns. Seriously, though, before we go too far down the path, I just want to reiterate that a woman withdrawing socially from a need to protect herself and then having that behaviour termed as something she is rudely doing to offend others is troublesome. I am repeatedly told that having to withdraw in such a way is of a greater cost emotionally to her than it is to the menfolk around her. She’s not physically striking or verbally abusing (in the example given) the men who say hello, she is simply withdrawing, against her wishes. And I do hear that, as you said “social snubbing is still rude” but with a minor shift in perspective, I think it can be understood differently.

  3. I usually go running about three or four times a week or at least I did until I broke my leg five weeks ago, and usually try to say “hello” or “good morning” to everyone I meet. The exceptions would be if two people are chatting together or if someone is on the phone as I believe it is rude to interrupt their conversation. Most people reply but I do not consider them rude if they don’t as I have no idea as to why they haven’t replied.
    Every now and again I miss saying “hello”, either usually because I haven’t seen anyone for about twenty minutes and my mind has gone into a world of its own or I’m so exhausted from running that my total focus is on avoiding hitting trees, people, potholes, etc. that may be along the path. In such cases I am usually way past the person before I realize they are there so I silently curse to myself about missing the greeting but then I would be more alert when I come across the next person.

  4. I didn’t see this at the time. I don’t see any poster mention that she seriously might not have heard you. There are loads of options of things in her ears (or literal deafness) that meant she had no idea you said anything. If she wasn’t in a position to see your mouth, she might have been input inhibited. There are people around my office talking to themselves quite often, but in fact they’re on the phone with invisible Bluetooth devices.

  5. As a woman and a runner, I think you are being unfair here for several reasons. First is the possibility that she may not have heard you in time to reply, second is that she may not have felt comfortable interacting with a random man on the street because of previous unpleasant or threatening experiences, third is that maybe she had had a tough day, was running to de-stress, and simply didn’t have the social/mental energy to get into a conversation–that possibility seems to be supported by the fact that, as you note, she was giving off a vibe of NOT wanting to interact…and yet you chose to try and initiate an interaction regardless. That could be construed as not respecting boundaries…which is also part of being polite. Now, if she had flipped you off or said something rude I think you would definitely be justified in thinking “what a jerk”. But she didn’t…she just didn’t respond, and you really don’t know why and it probably had nothing to do with you. Frankly I am troubled by the implication that I “owe” any random stranger any interaction when I am out in public minding my own business. That sounds exhausting.

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