03 March 2006

How about a little courtesy?

    Do to others as you would have them do to you.
      Luke 6:31 (New International Version)

This one has been bugging me for several days, but I'm only now getting off my virtual lazy butt and blogging it....

On Tuesday I was in New Brunswick for lunch at the Harvest Moon Brewery with some friends. The lunch didn't bug me - it was a good food and great beer. No, it was the person I encountered on the drive in. As I was pulling up to the parking deck entrance, a woman darted in front of me from between two street-parked cars. I had to stop short to avoid hitting her, and she gave me a nasty look as jaywalked into the parking deck. Fine. She had right of way, even if she chose to disregard pedestrian laws and common sense. I certainly can't claim to have never jaywalked.

We parked and started heading down the ram to the stairs. There was another person walking a few steps behind us who had also just parked. A car came up behind us all, creeping forward waiting for us to move. We did so quickly, as we were walking a little to far into the middle. Then person in the car gunned the engine and raced by us. Guess what? Yup, same woman flashing that same nasty look.

Here's the thing though, if someone rushed in front of her, like she did with me, she'd have run them over. If, as pedestrian she had encountered herself as a driver, she'd be dead. There would also be one hell of a paradox in the space-time continuum, but I digress.

Okay, I'm about to mention the men's room at my workplace. There will be only vague detail, but feel free to skip this paragraph. When I returned from lunch, I made a pit-stop, as it were. Someone had spit out their gum in the urinal. If you are unfamiliar with the flushing mechanics of the average urinal, let me just say that it is highly unlikely that gum was going anywhere. Anyone who uses a urinal would know this, including the guy who left it there. The person cleaning the urinal would have to remove this item, making an unpleasant job a little more unpleasant. This was not a unique occurrence. Often people throw paper towels in toilets, resulting in clogs that someone will have to deal with. All this with not one, but two trash cans nearby.

Everyone's probably heard the quote leading into this post. It's one of countless expressions of the ethic of reciprocity. Commonly known as the Golden Rule, this moral principle is found in virtually all cultures and religions. Its prevalence suggests the Rule may be related to innate aspects of human nature, according to the Wiki article I've linked to. You've got to wonder, though. It's hard to believe it's an innate behavior when people can't even be bothered to toss a piece of gum in the trash.

I claim no moral superiority on this, by the way. One reason I'm thinking about this now is that I am considering the ways I could have handled a workplace disagreement. I try to keep work out of my blog, so I won't elaborate, except to say this. I had the opportunity to consider the other person's situation and didn't, choosing focus on how I'm inconvenienced. A "conflict resolution" seminar at a recent company meeting was mostly about the golden rule, respecting the circumstances of the person you're in conflict with. It seems obvious when presented in that forum, but it's more difficult in the heat of the moment. Anyway, I could do a better job of dealing with these people, and I'm working on that presently.

To be fair, the lady from the parking garage doing the same thing, asking herself why she didn't just slow down. The guy with the gum might also be asking himself why he didn't just spit it in the trash.

One final thought.... Googling the Golden Rule yielded this essay, which contains the following paragraph:

The golden rule is best seen as a consistency principle. It doesn't replace regular moral norms. It isn't an infallible guide on which actions are right or wrong; it doesn't give all the answers. It only prescribes consistency - that we not have our actions (toward another) be out of harmony with our desires (toward a reversed situation action). It tests our moral coherence. If we violate the golden rule, then we're violating the spirit of fairness and concern that lie at the heart of morality.
I want to take this quote and use it as a context to discuss the policies and actions of our government under the Bush administration, but this post is already long. Besides, I think the conclusions are pretty clear.

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