“Duty To Confront” At The 7-11

Well, your friendly neighborhood ethics scold, unlike Democratic mayors and governors, is dedicated to doing what he urges others to do. In tonight’s case, I was obliged to follow through on the duty to confront (or the duty of confrontation), which has been a frequent theme here. I think it all came into focus for me when two jackasses at a Washington Nationals game were taking up two parking spots in the lot so they could “tailgate.” When I pointed out that they had only paid for one spot and were blocking where I wanted to park, their answer was “What are you going to do about it?” They chose…poorly. But I digress.

Tonight I was running an emergency errand to the local 7-11, and for some reason—free beer?—the parking lot was packed. Cars were double-parked, and I witnessed two near-accidents; it’s always been a badly designed lot. I had to cicle the block twice before I saw a space. And in the middle of it all the whole time, as other vehicles also searched for places to park, was a car with its hazard lights flashing, squatting in a spot right outside the store’s door, as the woman at the wheel blithely played, texted or whatever on her cell phone.

I went into the 7-11 and pointed her out to the two employees there. “You know, she’s preventing your customers from parking,” I said. “Oh, she’ll leave in a minute,” I was assured by one of the clerks, who obviously wasn’t looking forward to a confrontation. Neither was I: I was late getting home, I was hungry, and it was raining. By now, there were some empty spaces, including the one on the driver’s side of her car.

I left the 7-11, got into my car and pulled into that space. Then I rolled down my driver’s side window and leaned on my horn until she diverted her gaze from the damned phone, and looked over at me. I motioned her to lower her window, and as she did I said, loudly: “That isn’t a free space for your phone convenience, its a parking area for customers. People are looking for places to park. Leave now, or I’ll find someone who will make you leave. Don’t make me call the police.” She said nothing, shrugged, raided the window, and went back to her phone.

“OK, jerk,” I thought. I got back out of the car, slamming the door as violently as possible so she would hear. I went back into the 7-11 and demanded that the staff do something, because their patrons were being inconvenienced and even endangered. I was especially demonstrative for the jerk’s benefit. The employees became upset, but it was clear to me that they wanted no part of this controversy. From outside, however, it looked like a lot of commotion and agitation. My best move was taking out my phone and starting to call (I was dialing my office). The jerk left.

All the other people in the parking lot, all the drivers looking for spaces, and I was the only one who was willing to make the effort to confront this selfish, anti-social woman. That’s just not good enough.

Way back in 2010, I concluded a post about the duty of confrontation with this, and I still believe it—yes, even after the past four years:

We have the power to resist this cultural trend, and I strongly advise that we start using it. A democracy can no more survive when everyone is attacking, belittling, insulting, and saying “Fuck you!” to each other than a family or an athletic team. If we allow Washington’s first rule to be replaced by “Show your contempt for the world and your fellow citizens at every opportunity,” we will soon be living in a self-constructed hell.

Here is what we must do:

Insist that our leaders treat us and each other with deference and respect.

Refuse to tolerate personal attacks and vicious characterizations from public figures, celebrities, commentators and journalists.

Isolate and reject the purveyors of incivility…

Stop applauding when they call each other “pin-heads,” racists, “enemies,” Nazis, killers, traitors, or “the Worst Person in the World.”

Confront, oppose and report the uncivil people in everyday life.

Insist on “hello,” “please,” “thank-you,” and the rest, delivered with a genuine attitude of openness and friendliness.

Don’t laugh at, condone or encourage uncivil conduct and discourse, even when you dislike the target, or are amused by the style of the incivility. …

We need to be civil, respectful and fair ourselves, every day, all the time.

And we need to apologize when we are not.

The alternative is to live in a “Fuck You!” culture.  It is our choice. We can go there if we choose, but we should not allow the rudest and most obnoxious among us to push as there against our wills.

20 thoughts on ““Duty To Confront” At The 7-11

  1. My question becomes what if this woman had been with a very large boyfriend or husband, who told you in no uncertain terms to stop hassling her? Would you still have done it, even at the risk of being assaulted? I’ve found the threat of bodily harm frequently makes people lose their taste for confrontation, like when I told a mouthy plaintiff’s attorney to stop making stupid objections or I would throw him through the window, or a stupid Indian guy who parked on my (clearly posted as private) property so he could look at the lake to get back in his damn car and get going before I went upside his head with an ax handle.

    • Well, in the times when I have been threatened by males of various sizes in similar situations, I recall that these are just bullies. and the proper response is some variation of: “Great, let’s call the police; a station is nearby. If you’re threatening me, you better be prepared to kill me and have a brilliant escape plan, because there are witnesses, I’m a lawyer and former prosecutor, and if you so much as touch me I’ll have you charged and sued. Now back off, and get out of that parking space. Now.” My dad, who spent his childhood fighting bullies is schools, insisted that I call the bluff of bullies, and I always have.

      My wife is also excellent at variations on this speech, as when she was threatened by a large African-American mother in our Safeway who objected to Grace telling her to stop slapping a pre-schooler. After my wife refused to back down, she was thanked and congratulated by several shoppers and one employee, raising the question: why did all of them permit the women to engage in child abuse right in front if them and say nothing?

      I have learned to beware of those who appear genuinely insane,

  2. I think duty to confront has to be weighed against the backdrop of rational thinking. We will all interact with rude, self absorbed persons so we need to respond in a measured manner. What I have found is that demands that others behave in a manner consistent with polite society will be laughed at and then ignored. Store clerks don’t want the hassle because they don’t know what side the boss will come down on. Appearing irate will result other shoppers sympathizing with the ambivalence of the do nothing clerk and you will become the ogre.

    Some months ago I attempted to enter into a lane at a gas station. A young mother sat on the curb with her stroller and baby in the lane. I waited for her to clear the lane but she never did. Instead I had to wait until I could get around her. Inside was a female police officer and I told her that she should explain to the woman that leaving her stroller in the traffic lane put her child at risk of being hit . The officer behaved exactly like the ambivalent store clerk and got perturbed saying that I was getting worked up over nothing.

    This case boils down to self absorbed persons who lack enough self awareness to know they are hogging parking spaces when others are waiting. Does it make sense to remain parked in another space preventing someone from parking so you can confront an offender for preventing others from parking? I don’t know but I probably would not.

    Last evening I was at Walmart and I waited for a guy to back out of a space. As I gave way allowing the vehicle to back out safely, the vehicle stopped in the middle of the road and took up a conversation with a woman walking down the lot. The confab may have been under a minute but it seemed like a long time. I waited and simply shrugged at other shoppers who were also befuddled by the driver’s obliviousness toward blocking the lanes.

    The pandemic, big lies, intolerant totalitarians and the general self absorption of many has caused me to become far angrier than I would like to be. I think if I confront every offense I experience I will either grow too weary to battle the really important issues or I will become someone that I loathe.

    The first rule of being a customer is that you hold all the cards. Buy from someone else when you are not accommodated to your satisfaction and tell others of your horrible experience. But don’t forget to send a letter to the store owner or franchisee that your customer experience was insufficient (and why) and you will be shopping elsewhere.

    • The problem with duty to confront is that there is no agreement on what is “right” and “good”. I know what I have been taught as polite behavior but I don’t always know what others will tolerate in their own spheres of human rights. Does the duty to confront extent to those demanding I support unlimited asylum claims? I don’t believe it does so where is the boundary line for when the duty to confront stops?

      I would like to add that I don’t want to be confronted by those demanding I wear a mask outdoors or now in my own home.

  3. I teach, and one of my fun extra-duty assignments is car line a.m. and p.m.
    That is an eye opener.
    Duty-to-confront cases abound, and the consensus is to turn a blind eye. Cars reek of pot, infant seats are optional, and people speed, cut in line and enter the parking circle against traffic to position themselves to snag kids faster.
    The other day, a muscle car came in the wrong way, and I walked around to stop them, explain (cheerfully) against their protests and make them turn around. A bit scary, tbh.
    A grandfather with custody has watched this kind of thing play out more than once. He called me over to his truck afterward, and handed me an old golf umbrella. A pat on the back and symbolic weapon from an old veteran, and Bronze Star recipient.
    It was a relief to have one person notice and encourage me to stand up to thuggish, neglectful, self-absorbed parents.
    That the school culture discourages timely and appropriate “parent education” of this sort is significantly disgraceful.

  4. Such an excellent conversation, thank you. What about the intersection (yes, used on sarcastic purpose) of rude persons and politics? I am (surprisingly) not afraid to take on a bully. I am almost always stopped in my tracks when the bully is spouting nonsensical rhetoric. How do you talk with an emotional nutcase (in my opinion)? Is there a duty to confront people who have the ideological position of a bully?

  5. Chris said, “I think if I confront every offense I experience I will either grow too weary to battle the really important issues or I will become someone that I loathe.”
    In my case, I believe it would be more of the latter. I have made a fool of myself more than once by calling out someone for what I thought was egregious behavior only to find out that the individual was going through something traumatic, something much worse than a few lost minutes of my time.
    From the narrative, we have no idea why the woman was on her phone, only an assumption. It could have been some very serious and troubling matter, or something totally insignificant. So, why not tap on her window and gently let her know (or reminding her) that several people were looking for parking spaces.
    Well, it is the responsibility of the employees of that store to keep things running smoothly, right, so — exit the car (leaving it somewhere??), bypass the woman, enter the store, and urge the employees to do something. And, get the expected result.
    My inclination at that point would have been to just grab whatever was needed to end the emergency that brought me there, pay, and leave. The escalation that took place instead could not have made anyone happy.
    Some 77 years into this game, I guess I still do not fully understand some of the intricacies and nuances of ethics. For example, I can see where occupying a parking space unnecessarily (if that’s what it was) is an ethics violation, but I do not see how leaning on a horn while parked next to someone, speaking harshly to that person, slamming a door “as violently as possible”, and creating a scene inside a convenience store comport with George Washington’s first rule.

    • Nobody’s emergency excuses inconveniencing others needlessly. On the street outside the 7-11, there was plenty of open curb to park. “My life’s more important than your life” is the asshole’s credo.

      • I am not completely sure I understand this response. Who determines what is needlessly inconveniencing another. Who decides at corporate which customer has the greatest lifetime value; the patron in the parking space or the one seeking said space. At best, these are subjective judgements.

        If something is a true emergency and not simply a self proclaimed one then how can an inconvenience to another be seen as needless?

        Why there is an emergency at 7-11 is beyond me. Even I won’t start a fight to get a Big Gulp.

        • There’s some stuff here I don’t get either. There was “plenty of open curb to park” yet “people were double parked”, and the guy with the emergency “had to circle the block twice” before finding a spot.
          I’ve looked at Google maps for the two most likely 7-Elevens, and the parking lots are small, but with curb parking available, and an emergency of some kind underway, why not just park at the first available spot at the curb and take care of the emergency? An extra couple of dozen steps is too much of an imposition during an emergency?
          In a check-out line one time, the woman ahead of me exclaimed “Oh, where is that popcorn that’s on sale?”, and, being told, scurried off to get it while I waited. I should have confronted this ethics breach, berated the check-out girl and called the cops, but, instead I remembered the times people cut me a little slack.
          From the post:
          “Isolate and reject the purveyors of incivility.”
          “Insist on ‘please,’ … delivered with a genuine attitude of openness and friendliness.
          “We need to be civil, respectful and fair ourselves, every day, all the time.
          Good advice there. And, yet, somehow I’m reminded of this, “Oh wad some gift the giftie gie us”.

          • It’s simple—people want to park near the store, not on the next street. Me too. People wait for cars to clear out of their spaces, and do it in the lot. Why are you trying to defend the indefensible? Yup, as a matter of goddamn principle, I will not park an extra 20 yards from the store because as selfish jerk who has no further business there wants to chat with a friend.

            I have never done that to anyone,and I never will. I don’t care if the jerk regards me as an intermeddler–she’s objectively wrong, I’m right, and she needs to learn how to live with others.

        • That makes no sense whatsoever, Chris.The parking spaces are for patrons, not squatters. You’re imagining some hypothetical crisis that would pose an exception to the rule, and that’s supposed to be a universal justification for every jerk who wants to inconvenience those playing by the rules, in the raid, on a bitterly cold night.because she wants to use the space for her own inappropriate purposes. Why? I don’t care if I was going to the 7-11 to buy Tic-Tacs. She had no right to that space, and I did. If you let people steel a little from you because they think they can get away with it, they’ll steal a lot, if not from you, then someone else. These are the cheaters, the line-cutters, the petty shop-lifters, the litterers, the double-dippers,the diners who don’t tip, the shoppers who slip extra items in the 10 item only line—all of them. They waste time and the energy and good will of the people who don’t cheat, and collectively, they make life worse for everyone.

          It’s not about one Big Gulp.

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