Sunday, January 13, 2013
If you don't speak up against bad public behavior, who will?
Do you ever speak up against bad public behavior?
At least a couple of readers think you should.
A reader from Helper, Utah, writes that a few years ago she was at a fast-food restaurant with her children and saw a group of teenagers sliding down the slides on food trays. "They were big kids and going very fast on those trays," she writes. "You couldn't miss what was happening since the noise was incredible."
My reader writes that she immediately walked right up to the group and chewed them out. "I told them they didn't belong in there, that what they were doing at their size and at those speeds would kill any kid they hit. I ended that if they didn't leave immediately that I wasn't calling the manager, I was calling the cops."
The teenagers left.
"The other parents in the room thanked me," she writes. "None of them said 'boo' to those teenagers. They just got their kids away from them and let the teenagers take over."
Another reader from Columbus, Ohio, writes to tell me about the time a couple of summers ago he was driving his Honda CRV down the main highway in his city. A young woman driving in a red Mercedes convertible passed him in the right-hand lane and then, he writes, she cut him off while exceeding the speed limit by what he estimates was at least 30 miles an hour.
As the light ahead of them turned red, the red Mercedes pulled into the left-turn lane and stopped for the light.
"I pulled next to her while waiting for the light to turn green," my reader writes. "I looked down at the young lady thinking that I would 'glare' at her to show my displeasure at the way she was driving."
As he looked down, the driver looked up and glared back at him.
"What are you looking at old man?" he says she asked him.
"You're using your cellphone, smoking, not signaling to turn, and driving like you want to die. You'll never be an old woman," he recalls telling her, noticing as she pulled away to make her left turn that her turn signal wasn't activated again.
Did my readers do the right thing by confronting those misbehaving in public?
The driver wasn't wrong to say something. Given the litany of bad behavior he noted, it's not clear that what he said would keep the red Mercedes driver from continuing to be a menace as she drove on. But he spoke up.
The mother in Utah saw a situation that others chose not to confront and decided to tackle it head on. Her actions resulted in rescuing the play area for the children for whom it is intended. That other parents stood by and didn't say anything might not have been ideal, but that they were there when she confronted the teenagers should have given her some comfort knowing there were many standing by in case the teenagers weren't so compliant.
When someone's public actions threaten the safety of others, particularly young children, the right thing is to speak up. Doing so without adding to their or your own safety risk wherever possible is the wise course of action. But if you don't speak up to bad behavior, who will?
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2013 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.