Comment(s) Of The Day: On Daily Life Confrontations

I’m finally getting to the task of deciding which of the many qualified Comment of the Day candidates languishing while I sort them out. So put on my Sorting Hat, and ended up with another Comment of the Day hybrid, a collaboration between Kyjo and veteran commenter Tim Levier that occurred during the last Open Forum.

Here it is, beginning with Kyjo’s Supermarket Adventure:

A couple months ago now, I was in the midst of moving. The night before moving day, in the midst of packing and sorting through items left behind by an irresponsible freeloading roommate, I made a quick run to the supermarket to buy some bottled water for the movers and one other small item I don’t recall. I took a 24-pack of bottled water from the shelf, along with the other item, carrying them in my arms without using a cart. I went to the express lane, where there were two men ahead of me. The first one was pulling out coupons for what seemed like each individual item, so it took awhile, and of course I had to maintain my social distance. The checker started scanning the items for the second man, but because I had to remain 6 feet back, I couldn’t set my items on the belt behind his, so I was starting to get a little fatigued holding the pack of bottled water. At this time, an older lady came up behind me with a small cart load of items. “Excuse me, I was next in line,” she said.

“No, you weren’t,” I replied.

“Yes, I was!”

“No, you were not,” I said, becoming terse.

“I was! I was in line behind that man.”

“She was in line behind me before,” said the man in front of me.

“You weren’t in line when I got here, and I have only two items, so you can wait,” I told the lady.

“That’s not fair!” she protested. “I was next in line! This isn’t fair!”

I didn’t respond further, the man in front of me said nothing more, and the checker never intervened.

I felt bad about how this played out, because I was already short on patience when this happened, and I was very terse in my refusal. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have refused—but I rarely have heavy items in my arms when I go to check out, and I had already been waiting patiently for several minutes before she came up behind me. Had I been in her place, I would never have made such a demand; if I leave the checkout line I consider my place in it forfeit.

So, was my refusal ethical?

Tim’s response:

I think your feeling around your conscience is just showing your discomfort with being assertive. In the past year, I’ve really started exploring this and have actually started to enjoy being assertive in situations where I normally would have minded my own business.

I’ll relate 2 of them: I was driving home on my street and came across a guy on a bike “walking his dog”. He was stopped and the dog was pooping and it didn’t look like he had any intention of dismounting his bike. I parked, observed from a reasonable distance and saw him pedal away when the dog finished. I turned my car around, got alongside him and asked “Are you going to go back to pick that up?” This pissed him off and he yelled “Yes I am.” Which was a fine response for me. My goal was met – he knew people were watching him and knew who he was; even if he didn’t go back later after his trip around the block. I left it at that but that really set in me that I wasn’t in the wrong. I didn’t escalate it beyond what was necessary and I made my point.

The second was this past weekend. I entered the mall through Macy’s and as I got to the mall, a black man had set off the alarms and was in a bit of a confrontation with security and police were arriving. The gentleman was not keeping his cool and was making his displeasure known. Police put his hands in cuffs as he was jerking and resisting (a little bit.) I stopped walking and was a safe distance away and just stood there to watch and observe, saying nothing and not involving myself beyond being a good witness. A woman tried to get me to keep moving and leave. I said very tersely: “Why?” and proceded to ignore her. She was obviously Loss Control for Macy’s and didn’t want a crowd to gather, but tough shit. My view was that I was in a place I was permitted to be and something was happening that I felt I should witness should things go awry.

Back to my main point: Don’t let other people make you feel “less than” because they accuse you of violating some imaginary social norm. There’s no social norm that says we can’t be assertive or even confrontational. I may believe we have a responsibility to not escalate, but standing your ground in the face of escalation is, in my book, correct.

Sure you might have been a little less terse, but I think people’s level of “terse” is dependent upon how the confrontation presents itself. In your case, you were becoming exhausted and were obviously in the right position and she tried to assert an invalid claim. Tough cookies. She got out of that exchange exactly what she put into it. I think you’re just fine.


16 thoughts on “Comment(s) Of The Day: On Daily Life Confrontations

  1. I almost posted one of my own recent experiences after reading this exchange but chickened out. Ethics plays out in the day-to-day exchanges we all have, so perhaps sharing such experiences gives an opportunity to think them through more. Here’s mine:

    Went to a restaurant for brunch. When the wife and I arrived, a waitress handed us a small rainbow flag. I asked half joking and half seriously “Are you giving us this flag because we’re gay?” She said no with a smile and explained that the flag was for flagging down the waitress. I asked why a rainbow and not another flag or item for signaling.

    At that point she said the rainbow flags were extras from June’s Pride month. Then she said “plus they’re an F U to those who don’t like to wear masks.” I said “That’s awfully political for brunch.” She said we didn’t have to use the flags but they were helpful because the waitresses there wouldn’t even come to the table unless masks were on, even if a patron is in the middle of eating. So the flag also served as a reminder to wear a mask to get service.

    After sitting at the table for a few minutes I became more and more irritated at the notion that those who don’t like wearing masks are somehow automatically anti-LGBTQ bigots who need rainbows in their faces. Plus I don’t go out to eat to have staff say FU to anyone or to engage in identity politics. So we left.

    Later that day I called and spoke with the manager. She said the we didn’t have to use the flags at all. I asked then what the point of them were if they’re extraneous in the first place. She said they helped to “honor the owners gay brother” and let LGBTQ people know they were in a “safe space.” I explained that I wasn’t comfortable going to a place that made assumptions about those who don’t want to wear masks or feel a need to politicize a meal. I also said that it made my wife and I feel put opn the spot like mascots and that if there was backlash, it would be us that would possibly get the shit end of any resentment, not the restaurant. The last thing I mentioned was that for us eating a meal at a restaurant was in part about getting away from politics, not engaging further. She said she was sorry if we were uncomfortable and had nothing further to say.

    When we drove by the next day, even more rainbows were on display. F U indeed. We will not eat there anymore.

    Are we being too sensitive? Should I have let it go? Is there another action we may get take to get our point across better?

    • Hi Mrs. Q,

      Some of my favorite posts on Ethics Alarms are the ones in which Jack recounts ethics situations from his daily life. After I had this encounter, I thought immediately of this site, but it took me awhile to commit to writing a comment about it. The basic problem seemed simple enough, but I wanted to get some outside perspective, in case I had an ethical blindspot. I’m glad I did; the replies were helpful, and in keeping with my high estimation of the quality of Ethics Alarms commenters.

      Regarding your story, I’ve been to plenty of businesses before, usually owned by gay people or “allies,” where the rainbow flag was prominently featured. (No doubt you have as well!) I haven’t thought of it was much different from a Mexican flag in a Mexican restaurant, or an Italian flag in an Italian restaurant, etc. Although there’s no such thing as LGBTQ+ cuisine, is there? In the context of a dining establishment, the rainbow flag might have domestic political connotations that the flags of foreign nations would not, though I think many people read it as nothing more than a symbol of identity and, well, pride. As long as customers are treated fairly, I don’t think it’s unethical. Using small versions of the flag to call a server to the table seems … tacky, but I’m not sure I’d call foul on that, by itself.

      The problem seems to arise with the understanding, implied by your server, that people who don’t want to wear masks are anti-gay, and so any customer who declines to use the allotted rainbow flag to call a server is presumed to be both anti-gay and anti-mask, regardless of anything else that customer might say or do. Now, if a customer, no matter his personal opinion on the efficacy of wearing masks, abided by the stated rules, what would justify treating him any different than others? If a customer, no matter her personal feelings about gay people, treated the employees and other customers respectfully, what would justify treating her any differently than others? This is seems the only reason to set customers apart based on their choice not to use a rainbow flag to call servers is to discriminate against them. That is unethical, and I wouldn’t want to return to that restaurant myself.

      • “that people who don’t want to wear masks are anti-gay”

        This blows my mind. It is the characteristic bigotry of unjustly presuming a million things from one opinion, behavior, trait or characteristic.

      • Rainbow flags are political; a Mexican flag in a Mexican restaurant is thematic. Making someone wave a rainbow flag, a MAGA flag, or a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag is forced political speech, and I say to hell with it.

        Asking a diner to wave a Confederate flag to summon a waiter in a Southern Cuisine restaurant….?

    • 1. If you were being too sensitive, it’s for exactly the same reason I might be called “too sensitive.”
      2. I object to forced political speech even if the position I’m being urged/required/bullied into expressing happens to be something I agree with. So I refuse.
      3. Baseball and the Boston Red Sox have been one of my major joys in life since I was 12. I have not watched a single game this season after my team started promoting BLM. I follow baseball to get away from politics, not to engage in it.

      FU indeed.

    • Good morning, Mrs. Q.

      Excellent post. I, too, would have left. The rainbow flag has become an overt political symbol and a declaration of an ideological position. I fear wearing a mask, or not wearing one, is becoming a loaded statement, too. This week, a video circulated showing a school security officer tasing and arresting a non-mask wearing woman for the murderous act of nit wearing a mask at an outdoor sports event at a high school. No one said or did anything to stop what was happening.


    • I did a bit of research into the bandera de maricas or the ‘f*g-flag’ as it might be called. Originally it had 8 bands, not seven, and the first one was pink. The guy who thought it up — a gay artist from SF — got his inspiration from the Judy Garland singing Over The Rainbow.

      What is interesting — from my hyper-contrarian perspective of course! — is that a deviant symbol has become so ubiquitous. It is not so much that in some progressivist restaurant (what sort of menu did they offer, I ask?) they make people bow down (in a way) to the sexual practices of homosexuals by shoving it into view, but that the entire culture does this. It is a trick of course.

      The bandera de maricas is everywhere, validating not only a relationship but a whole *life-style* and also, of course, an entire sexual ethics. But the really interesting thing is that no one can be a moral person, or a ‘decent & ethical person’ and simultaneously reject the ubiquity of the flag. It creeps in, it sneaks in, and becomes normality itself. That is how the trick functions. That was its purpose.

      Here, where I live, just a few years ago (around the time I started contributing to this blog) the pueblo-city I live in was relatively unmarred by all the strange attitudes and practices that come from America and spread out like a disease. But with each passing month it all began to show up. The piercings, the tattoos, the weird haircuts, “looks” that are semi-delinquent, and along with this all the experimental sexual attitudes and possibilities. An attitude of *challenge*. How quickly things morph. And where are they going? What is the end here?

      Now just yesterday at a friend’s building (a ‘gated community’ of average economic means) I noticed for the first time a group of semi-delinquent kids out in front. I was suddenly reminded of what I had observed when I lived in the Bay Area of California 11 years back. The same body-language and the same sexual ambiguity I had noticed there. How odd that this replicates and spreads. It is not just *one thing* but a whole group of things. These attitudes spread like social memes I guess.

      It appears true that not only is there no ‘private sphere’ — what you do in private will always, eventually, make it out into the ‘public arena’ — but also that what an influential nation does and what an influential nation sets as standards of normalcy. . .seeps out. The influence of movies and TV I assume principally.

      So, once upon a time a queer man in San Francisco dreamed of a land over the rainbow where the sort of deviancy he represented would be in free and open manifestation. He got his wish!

      Cultural engineering, attitude engineering, social manipulation, value transfiguration — such interesting elements of modernity to consider!

  2. I have seen people get out of line while waiting to get a forgotten item but they leave the cart as a place holder. The idea that you can leave with your cart and expect that your old spot in line remains yours is ridiculous.

    I think your afterthoughts are a function of the way we have been socialized toward relatively much older women. I have been in similar situations due to these distancing regulations where a women perhaps 10 years older (70’s) pushed her cart between mine and the person in front of me. I said not nothing but I was rather perturbed that she did not even think to look around to see where the line ended. At the time, I rationalized that the most likely outcome if I were to challenge the women and tell here where the line ended I would be seen as a heartless jerk toward a little old lady.

    When I read this Kyjo’s post the first time I almost responded but chose to let it go. The more I think about my reaction or inaction the more resentful I become when I hear about all my privilege. A great deal of my early socialization was to defer to others. Obviously there is a continuum with respect to deference. At one extreme you have psychopathy and the other you have the proverbial whipping boy. We all behave somewhere well within the extremes along that continuum at different times in different circumstances. I do believe that we are being conditioned to defer to authority while simultaneously becoming more resentful of that conditioning. My worry is that we all wind up losing an ability to offer real compassion as we are pushed closer and closer to sociopathy.

  3. I’m in my 70s and live in the SF Bay Area. Even when I lived right in the City, no one was ever reluctant to tell an older person where the line ended. From time to time during this Covid anarchy, I’ve been confused by the arrows on the floor and what line goes to which cash register. I don’t take offense at having the rules pointed out to me and anyone, at any age, who does take offense, clearly believe they are special. That’s someone who deserves to be brought up short or none of us will want to live in this world.

    • JG
      We are all products of what we learn as children. If I had grown up in say New York City my socialization might be substantially different. The inner voice telling me that confrontation would make me a jerk was my own. Why is that and why should I feel that way? Socialization. I have noticed however, that my willingness to engage in polite behavior is going by the wayside. Why is that?

      • Chris
        You use NYC as a place where socialization might have been different from, I presume, a small town or suburb? I lived in NYC for 5 years and found that native New Yorkers tended to be friendly and outgoing. I noticed numerous times a New Yorker stopping to help a tourist who was holding a map and looking perplexed. (FYI we lived on 84th street on the east side) Large cities have neighborhoods where the neighbors know each other just like they would in small towns and they care for each other in the same manner. I concluded this is because we’re social beings at our core and, as our surroundings grow, we create smaller units in which we can relate. There are those who seek the luxury of anonymity that a large city offers but I don’t think that lasts unless they move around a lot. Those apartment towers, especially the coops, are more like small towns than you would think. New Yorkers may seem abrupt because they’re used to a faster pace but their interactions are no less considerate. It seems to me that what we react to is not necessarily the message someone delivers but the manner in which it is delivered. I make a point of returning a poorly delivered message with an obviously mannerly response and find that I’ve made my point clear. And, for those times it’s not, I just chalk it up to someone having a bad day. The reason I love Jack’s blog is that people actually communicate with each other which is where the world is truly falling short. It’s the everyday interactions that may get us back to where we need to be.

  4. I am not sure what ethics lessons the following story teaches but,sadly, this happened to me this past week. As I have said before, my wife is simultaneously amazed and annoyed at the strange situations I get into on a regular basis.

    Tuesday’s Lesson: “Head, meet wall. Repeat.”

    See, I had a nail in my tire today. Grrr! Thankfully, I have road hazard protection from the Big Ass Tire Seller Company. So, I took my car there for repair or replacement of the tire. Due to DIVOC(!!!) they told me I needed to make an appointment (earliest available was Friday at 2:45 pm) or wait (1 1/2 hours). Imagine my surprise. Thankfully, there was a restaurant across the parking lot, it was nearing noon when I was to meet the Chairman for lunch, and it would be convenient. I contacted the Chairman, made a motion to transfer/change our eating venue (which was granted), and we dined. Service at the place was merely passable but the food was fine.

    While finishing with lunch I saw the Big Ass Tire Seller Company fellow pull my car into the bay for work on the tire. I was pleased that I was able to make decent use of my waiting time. But, alas. A few moments later, I saw the Big Ass Tire Seller Company fellow put the spare tire on my car, back it out of the bay, and get another car to work on. Perplexed, I went over to the Big Ass Tire Seller Company and asked about the status of my car.

    At first, the Big Ass Tire Seller Company rep asked me my name, concluding that my car was registered under Claudia (why is beyond me), and looked for the paperwork. He told me my 2017 BMW X5 was ready. I told him that would have been excellent but I don’t own a 2017 BMW anything. I own and hate a 2016 Tahoe.

    That led him to scratch his head and a request for my phone number, which I gave him but also told him my last name is Burger. He was flummoxed because he couldn’t find the paperwork associated with my phone number. I pointed to my folder (declaring my last name) and informed him that that was my folder. “Oh”, he said, “we called you and tried to leave a message because you didn’t answer but the call didn’t go through

    I responded, “Did you now? At what time?” “1:15, sir. We called ‘xxx-xxx-6060’ but the call didn’t go through.” “Interesting,” I said, “I suspect the call didn’t go through because that is not my number. My phone number is ‘xxx-xxx-0060.'” “Oh,” he said, “well, we can’t fix the tire because the nail is too close to the sidewall and you need to replace it. We have that tire in stock but it will cost $245.00.”

    I asked, “Why do I have to pay for it? I have fix or replace insurance on my cars.”

    “Hmmm, we show that you don’t have that insurance on the 2017 BMW.” “Yeah, I know. I like that vehicle but I don’t own one. Remember when I said ‘I own and hate a 2016 Tahoe’ about two minutes ago? Nothing’s changed and I still don’t own a BMW.”

    “Oh. Let me check. What is your phone number again?” “It’s ‘xxx-xxx-0060.” “It’s not coming up on the work order but the computer here shows that yes, you do have the insurance. Do you want to replace the tire?” “Well, that seems reasonable, don’t you think?” “Yes, I recommend it.” “Well, based on your recommendation, I will replace the tire.”

    “It will take about an hour to replace it. Do you want to wait?” “Not really. I left it here over an hour ago and I really need to get to the office.” “I understand, but you didn’t answer when we called you.” “Oh. Silly me.” “Let me see if the tech can replace the tire after he is done with the car he is working on right now.” “That would be great.”

    Twenty minutes late, I left with new tire in hand (erm . . . on my car) and returned to the office.


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