Better And Better

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Friday, September 18, 2009

A polite society.

Yet again last night, I saw another example of it.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
I had run into the medium-large town down the road to pick up some groceries. I had my 7 year-old daughter with me. I was wearing a clean T-shirt, some cargo shorts and tennis shoes, and my assorted pocket plunder.

As I finished putting the groceries into the trunk, I realized that I was being approached by someone. I turned around to meet them, with my right hand casually dropping into my right pocket.

The individual was a man, not of my race or ethnicity. He looked like a working man, of younger middle age, still in his working clothes of a pair of worn khakis, an untucked non-labeled button-front short-sleeved work shirt, and a very worn clip-on ID tag that was smudged beyond recognition. I didn't know him, nor did I have the impression that we had met, but we might have. I meet a lot of people who remember me, whom I forget pretty quickly.

His voice was kind of gravelly as he said, "Excuse me...?" and continued walking toward me. This was in the parking lot of a large strip shopping center that also contained the huge supermarket where I had just finished my shopping. The man came from the end of the shopping center with all the little shops that had already closed for the night. He looked mildly aggravated. He didn't seem to notice my hand in my off-side pocket. My daughter was standing next to the back door of the car, waiting for me to get in and unlock it for her from the inside, but had the trunk of the car between the man and her. She was out of traffic, and reasonably out of harm's way.

"Yes, sir?" I responded. I kept my face open, and my eyes moved from the man's face to his hands to his waist and pockets and back to his face.

"Do you know this area?" he asked. "I thought that there used to be a store that sold cut-rate cigarettes here, somewhere." I now recognized that annoyed look on his face as being the frustration of someone who has made a trip that he is discovering to be a waste of time.

"Yeah, there was, wasn't there?" I said, searching my memory. "Wasn't it in that empty spot over there? Or that one over there? I don't smoke, so I don't pay much attention," I said.

"Naw, it wasn't that one, but maybe the other one. Dang. I don't smoke, either. It's for my brother," he said. "I heard they moved, but were still here somewhere."

"Sorry, man. Maybe the front desk guy at the restaurant there will know?" I suggested.

"Just came from there. Well, I'll have to get 'em at the convenience store. They want a lot of money, you know?" he responded.

"I heard that," I chuckled, and got into my car and opened the door for my daughter to get in. "Good luck." He waved as he walked away.

As I drove away from the parking lot, I noticed a new store, closer to the road than the rest of the strip center, with a new tobacco store in it. I tried to change lanes to get back into the parking lot to go tell the guy where it was, but couldn't safely make the turn, and gave it up for lost in the medium heavy traffic.

My daughter asked me who the guy was. "Just a stranger," I told her. She asked me why I had talked to him (she herself has strict orders never to do just that, with strangers). I explained that he was just someone who was seeking help, and wasn't a threat to me, and that I try to help people when I can do so safely.

She said, "Oh, because you're a police officer."

This was complicated. "No. Not just because I'm a police officer. Grownups should be able to try to help each other, if they can, without worry about other grownups. I wasn't talking to him as a police officer, but just as another adult. We were both citizens. Do you understand that?"

She nodded. "Uh huh. And my daddy's not afraid."

"Well, not of just passers-by, er-- people-- on the street," I reiterated. "You're a little girl, now. I don't let you talk to strangers because you're very [I tickled her, at this point] pretty, and someone might want to take you away. But someday, you will be an adult, and on your own, and you will make your own decisions about who you talk to, and about what. This will be based on your own comfort level with people. That's why we talk about bad guys, and how to deal with them," I said. I realized that I was going on a bit too long for a 7 year-old.

"But that wasn't a bad guy?" my daughter verified.

"No, sweetie. That was just a guy," I responded.

"Smoking is bad for you," she said, changing the subject at c speed.

"You're absolutely right, it is," I agreed. "That's one reason why Daddy never smokes."

"You smoked a cigar with John [Shirley]," she said.

"Well, yeah, you're right, I did. And that, my dear, is the exception that proves the rule," I admitted.

"What's that?" she demanded.

"Another time, kiddo. But Daddy doesn't smoke," I said.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

If it hadn't been for my seven-year-old using the Socratic method, I wouldn't have given it a second thought. I am more willing to engage in conversation with strangers, and at least attempt to help them, because I am armed, and feel few concerns about my safety. This happens all the time. It's a genuine example of cultures intermingling in a generally pleasant manner, because the participants weren't worried about each other.

Want to engage in peaceful multiculturalism? Speak kindly to a person of another race, culture, or ethnicity, and try to help a brother out. You can't do that if you're afraid of the world.

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16 Comments:

At Saturday, September 19, 2009 12:33:00 PM, Anonymous jimbob86 said...

Speak kindly, but carry a big stick. Or a small one, that shoots fire.

 
At Saturday, September 19, 2009 4:10:00 PM, Blogger Joe Allen said...

Thank you, that's the best illustration of the "Polite Society" concept I've read. Most people hear it - "An armed society is a polite society" and assume that it means everyone is afraid to offend someone else for fear of violent reprisal.

I try and explain, when I can, that it's nothing of the sort. An armed citizen has the means to protect themselves, thus can afford to be civil and "help a brother out".

Between you and Marko Kloos, we might just be able to get this across to the squares!

 
At Saturday, September 19, 2009 8:11:00 PM, Anonymous TBeck said...

One of the pleasant-but-strange things I had to adjust to upon moving to Texas was just how FRIENDLY people are here. It took some getting used to and still tend to move to high yellow/low orange when addressed by a stranger, but I recognize that folks here are just more sociable than other parts of the Union.

 
At Saturday, September 19, 2009 9:16:00 PM, Blogger Mikael said...

Although on the flipside, in many countries people don't feel the need of a gun to make themselves feel safe enough to help random strangers on the street with directions. I'd bet you ten to one you'd have no trouble with that in my native sweden, in germany, japan, thailand, etc. All with strict laws on gun ownership.

I think by and large, america is bombarded so much more with fear from the media than most other countries, and it rubs off, and the violent crime rates also being above-average for the developed world adds to it as well(though you aren't the only ones with revolving door prisons...)

All that doesn't invalidate Marko's brilliant essay though.

 
At Saturday, September 19, 2009 9:20:00 PM, Blogger Old NFO said...

Agreed Matt- It IS amazing how well people react when one is polite to them. But always be ready...

 
At Sunday, September 20, 2009 11:11:00 AM, Blogger Brigid said...

I am more likely to engage when the magazine is full. Like you, I have a sense of the situation more often than not, but the guard never goes down.

Doesn't mean I won't stop and help.

Your daughter will learn well by you.

 
At Sunday, September 20, 2009 2:43:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

Mikael, Japan, Sweden, and for the most part Germany all have far more homogenous cultures than we do in the U.S. How that actually plays into violent crime is debatable, as it is certainly true that the majority of violent crime is within a given cultural group.

It is undeniable that cultures within the US, for whatever reason, tend to separate into their own discrete groups.

The fact of the matter is that people have fears of blending, for whatever reason. Crime does exist, and we'll forever be debating why. But the mere existence of the means to protect yourself is not the cause of it.

 
At Sunday, September 20, 2009 4:33:00 PM, Blogger Mikael said...

Matt don't get me wrong, I was just commenting on how you got into defensive mode when confronted with a middle aged man still in work clothes, who happened to be of another ethnicity.

I'm just saying in most other developed countries he'd likely have been helped without the person helping having a firearm.

Now if he'd been a guy in his 20s in baggy jeans and t-shirt, or a big burly guy, I'd been more understanding of the defensive mode(regardless of ethnicity).

As for homogenity... while white people are a large majority here, we have quite a bit of imigrants, often arab, some african, some persian, and a few asian and others. Furthermore a lot of the imigrants are refugees, fleeing war or persecution. Heck my town still has refugees(now settled in) from both sides of the iran-iraq war, from all sides of the yugoslavian wars, etc. I live next to a neighborhood which is sometimes jokingly refered to as bosnia-burg.

 
At Monday, September 21, 2009 8:41:00 AM, Anonymous Michael said...

Thanks for this reminder that common civility is still alive. I am as guilty as anyone of responding with behavior bordering on hostility to strangers at times. It's not that I don't like folks; probably more of a conditioned response after having lived in Memphis for a few years (thankfully, no longer). Happily, I now live where people still wave at each other when they pass.

That said, how close did he actually get to you during this exchange? I could probably swap pleasantries all evening with someone as long as they don't cozy up too much.

 
At Monday, September 21, 2009 9:19:00 AM, Blogger TOTWTYTR said...

Adults and children should operate in different ways. Children haven't had the experience or developed the skills to be able to judge who is potentially dangerous and who isn't. Well, some adults haven't either, but that's because they have been lulled into a false sense of security by "COEXIST" crowd. There are bad people out there, and it's important to know who they are.

Women in general (Tam, Breda, Brigid are exceptions) also have to be far more sensitive because unless they are armed, they are more vulnerable.

Except for the very high level of violence by unassimilated immigrants in Sweden, I'm sure it's very peaceful. Well, except that Sweden has about twice the homicide rate per 100,000 of population as the US. With a 2/3 rate of crimes solved.

No doubt that's just rumor mongering by the right wing.

Maybe Anna Lindh could comment, but she's dead. Which she might not be if she had one of those evil guns.

 
At Monday, September 21, 2009 9:57:00 AM, Blogger Matt G said...

My personal town? Not so heterogenious.

As for "defensive mode," yes-- I am on alert when ANY stranger approaches me without a clear reason. I am doubly cautious when I have a child with me, under my care.

Honestly, I didn't think about the whole thing until after my daughter asked me about it. I wasn't in the least hostile, and had no especial concerns about this fellow. No, it wasn't that his race or ethnicity was different than mine that I was cautious; it was that he was a stranger that I didn't recognize. I merely pointed out his differing race and ethnicity in that people do not intermingle much. Note that my daughter didn't even mention it; she's been taught nothing of racism, to the best of my knowledge.

Look, I've been pissing off bad guys for the vast majority of my adult life. I've been either taking them to jail, taking their friends and relatives to jail, or even for a while overseeing large quantities of them in jail. While I'm never abusive, I've also not been a concierge or masseusse to these people; a lot of them don't like me, and have told me as much. Some have made threats against me and my household.

Unfortunately, I don't have instant recall as to who all was unhappy with me over the years. It is the nature of the business that most people remember their interaction with me than I do of them. For me it was a day at work; for them it was an incarceration. So I do take seriously any approach by a stranger. But I'll be damned if I'll be afraid of people, or teach my daughter to be.

 
At Monday, September 21, 2009 1:27:00 PM, Blogger Mikael said...

"Maybe Anna Lindh could comment, but she's dead. Which she might not be if she had one of those evil guns."

She got surprise stabbed while shopping. A gun wouldn't have helped her one bit, situational awareness might have though, so bad example, though I know you mean well. I'd love for us to have the option(not so much for my own safety, I live in a large but fairly quiet town, and I very rarely go out drinking).

Can't say much else about the statistics cause I'm too tired right now and I'm about to hit the sack. I will note however that probably 50% is bad guy on bad guy homicides, organised crime on the rise(biker gangs most prominantly). Not happy about it, but at least they're mostly killing eachother.

*added cause it bugged me: according to a color-coded murder-by-capita map I checked, we're high for europe, but still way lower than USA, 2-5 vs 5-10*

Matt - thanks for the reply, that really made me go "oh yeah, duh". Cop thing, not sure who you've pissed off(including relatives/friends of various goblins), makes sense. Not that you were afraid of him.

 
At Monday, September 21, 2009 4:21:00 PM, Anonymous Tam (remotely) said...

"I will note however that probably 50% is bad guy on bad guy homicides..."

Coincidentally, it's that way here, too. (Much as the media would like people to believe otherwise.)

 
At Wednesday, September 23, 2009 6:50:00 PM, Blogger TOTWTYTR said...

Mikael, it's the mind set that counts. In Sweden it seems that many people are lulled into a false sense of safety, including Lindh. Merely having a gun wouldn't have changed that, but it's also likely that if she had the gun, she'd have had the mindset and thus have been able to defend herself.

It's a huge cultural difference.

 
At Friday, September 25, 2009 1:31:00 AM, Blogger J.R.Shirley said...

Uh-oh. Do I need to dispose of the Punch After-Dinner I have for you?

 
At Tuesday, September 29, 2009 8:41:00 PM, Blogger Sarcastic Bastard said...

I'm a little late to this, but it's a great post.

 

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