Monday, May 19, 2008

Judge Giachettica: The Waiting Room incident

Wow, where has the time gone? I can't believe it's been almost 3 months since my last post; I blame it all solely on my bathroom project. Alright, I'm sure there were other factors as well, but it's just easier to say that lately all my time and money has been spent painting, flooring, caulking, nailing, and more painting in my bathroom. But it's almost done, the dust is beginning to settle, and I can finally get my head out of the glue and paint fumes and resume my duties as blogmaster. Today's entry deals with an encounter I had the other day in the waiting room of my allergist.

I consider myself a fair and just person. Occasionally I can let my emotions cloud my judgement and react without thinking through a scenario, but I believe fundamentally I have a good sense as to what's right and wrong. I was even almost... ALMOST... sad that I didn't get picked for jury duty when I got called in last month. As I grow older I've come to understand that resolving conflicts are almost never as simple as "he's right/he's wrong", but more about determining who's MORE right and/or MORE wrong. And the hardest conflicts to deal with, of course, are the ones where fair and just people look at both sides and say, "well, they BOTH have equally valid points, neither is more right or wrong than the other." Hence my little internal dilemma when the following example played out.
NOTE: The following descriptions are meant to paint a picture of the people and events that transpired, and are not meant to lead readers to prejudge or support either side.

A few weeks back, I was sitting in the waiting room of my allergist waiting to be called in for my weekly shots. There were a few other people in the room waiting for their turn as well; among them was a man appearing to be in his late 50's, with long white hair, beard and wearing I believe a leather vest, or something that looked like biker-wear. (we'll call him 'hippy biker' for lack of a better term) and a somewhat heavy-set black man in his early 40's talking on his cell phone (designated 'phone guy'). Now phone guy was talking away, but not particularly loud, and not at all offensively, but he was talking, despite the sign on the front door of the office that requested cell phones not be used. I didn't particularly care, having tuned him out and gone off into my own little world. Hippy biker, however, was not as passive, and asked in a not-so-completely-innocuous tone, "Excuse me, could you take your call outside?" My ears perked up... spidey senses tingling, I felt a sudden rise in tension. Phone guy just kind of stared at him for a moment, obviously dumfounded by the request. He asked again, "Could you take your call outside, it's very annoying". Phone guy stared some more, then simply replied, "You go outside." Hippy biker went on to explain how rude it was for people to talk on their cell phones in public (I assume he meant in close quarters, like buses, waiting rooms, etc.), phone guy responded by saying he didn't care, which was met by a very sarcastic "You're very considerate, thanks, very considerate." Some more words were exchanged, including phone guy addressing Hippy biker as "boy", then he was called in for his appointment. Now I really don't like confrontation and usually don't get myself involved, but my body was all stiffened up with adrenaline, because halfway through I decided if this escalated to blows I might need to intervene, and it looked like it might. With the danger now passed, I was left with several thoughts and questions in my head. Who did I think was right and wrong here? How would I have reacted had it been me on the phone? Would my knee-jerk reaction have been the same as a more thought-out analysis of the situation? As an exercise I'd like you to form your own opinion before reading on to my judgement. I'll wait.

OK, as I see it, on the one side you have hippy biker, who has his own opinions and ideals, and one of them is talking on a cell phone so everyone hears a one-sided conversation is rude and obnoxious. OK, I can see that. He has a right to speak up about something that is really bothering him, and I kind of admire someone who would stand up for himself and/or others. It IS kind of annoying to hear someone chatting to an unheard party, and technically he IS in the right, since there was a sign on the door asking people to refrain from phone use. One the other hand you have phone guy simply talking on the phone, not really bothering anyone (not me anyway, I can't speak for the others in the waiting room), and minding his own business. So who's right? It always gets a little sticky when you're talking about people's rights, because the term 'rights' is so broad and covers so much terrain, they're bound to intersect and conflict. Let's quickly take another example, smokers vs. non-smokers. Smokers have a right to poison their own body, and enjoy whatever vices they want; and non-smokers have a right to breathe clean air, and not have their environment stink of smoke. But it's a bit easier to decide right and wrong in this argument because of health concerns and quality of life issues, and the government seems to agree, siding with the non-smokers more often than not (which is perfectly fine by me). In the cell phone case, it's more abstract; yes it could still be considered a quality of life issue, but it's alot more subjective. I can just as easily say that two people talking in the waiting room annoys me, but should they stop? What makes ME more entitled to my rights than they to theirs? And I think that was the struggle I was having with this confrontation; to say either one of them is right is to admit that they have more of a right to their opinion than the other guy; that somehow they're better or more important. And I have a real problem with people thinking they're better than others, or worse yet acting on it. So if you're ready, here is my final verdict.

Society has deemed using a cell phone in public the 21st century equivalent of walking into a restaurant with no shirt and no shoes; if you're talking on a cell phone, you're considered rude and inconsiderate to those around you. Personally I find it mildly annoying, but nothing to make a big deal about, and certainly not something to cause a scene over. In my opinion it was much more rude to bother someone who's on the phone and request that he take his conversation outside, where he may miss his name being called for the doctor. From my perspective it certainly was much more annoying. Cell phones are part of life; they're here and not going away. While it would have been nice if phone guy initially made his call outside, I don't think Hippie Biker had more of a right to ask him to leave, especially since he was not being offensive or loud. I therefore rule in favor of Phone guy. Court adjourned.

Addendum: I'm starting to believe this tendency to bash, criticize and mock cell phone users is getting more annoying than the actual deed, especially when it comes from hippocrites. Between starting and finishing this entry I found myself in a pizza shop waiting for my food, and as I waited I spotted a sign next to the counter, "We'll be happy to help you once you're off your cell phone!" This by itself I thought was incredibly arrogant, as if being on the phone was akin to changing a baby's diaper on the counter. But what really got me was after reading the sign, I immediately looked over at the guy behind the counter (who I happen to know is the owner) and lo and behold, he's on his goddamned phone! I actually witnessed him take no less than three orders while on the phone; now granted he had one of those robotic bluetooth earpiece thingies, but what the hell?? How is it the guy who's taking my order, giving me change and preparing my food feels it's ok to be distracted and talk in front of his customers, but holy HELL is it wrong to make him wait a half a second to decide whether I want extra cheese because I'm asking my friend on the phone! I almost wished Hippie Biker was there to rip the sign off the wall and shove it down his throat...