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.