Whose Rights are Right in Public Spaces?

        Do you think people in public places can tell other people to stop doing something that is disturbing them? I mean, are there basic rules of consideration when we are using public spaces?

        So, it’s around 7:00 pm on a Saturday night. I’m in a less than busy fast food restaurant – one with a big, yellow letter on its sign – and I’m having a cup of tea with a strawberry pie. I’ve never been a coffee drinker; although I have tried. Coffee smells so good! But I digress.

        Anyway, I had just left a busy workplace and wanted some peace. With a good 90 minutes to kill before picking up my kid from the mall, I grab a padded, non dura-plastic booth, lean back, close my eyes, and breathe deeply. Aaahh.  Much needed break in my day. Even with the muffled sounds of the little kids bumping and squealing on the indoor mega-jungle gym, I am still able to relax.

The big screen TV that food places insist on mounting in our faces is set to a low mumble and the quiet darkness outside sets the scene for me, as I quietly sip my Earl Grey, stocked with bunches of mini-creamers.

Then I hear a blast of music and talking. I’m so startled by its loudness that I think there’s some kind of public activity going on. So, I get up and look around the restaurant. Nothing.  It becomes clear, now, that it’s theme music and hyped up voices – you know the kind used to tell you what you missed previously on XYZ Show. Instinctively, I glance at the TV. Nope; only that same local news guy droning on with his expressionless face. How does he do that? Does he hate his job?

Anyway, I’m confused for a moment, but then I begin hearing a full out episode of some kind of soap opera or drama series. It is so loud, I feel like I’m listening to an old-time radio program where you can picture what’s happening even without actually seeing it.

Determining that it’s coming from my booth neighbor, I lean my head around the side to investigate. What looks to me like a high school age girl glances up at me, sees my inquisitive face, smiles faintly, and goes back to watching her smartphone.

Now knowing how she has disturbed me, surely she will quickly realize how loud her show is and will turn it down. I wait a few seconds, expecting to hear the dialogue of Francisco, David, and Elisa fade away. NOT! That girl does no such thing. She just keeps on eating and watching and sharing her show with me; even though I’m in an entirely different booth for an entirely different reason!

Really? Is she that clueless? Or inconsiderate? I try to ignore it and go back to my blissful tea-sipping, but am unable to ignore the yelling about David cheating on Elisa and the fight between Heidi and Celia, in which at least one face is slapped and a chair is broken.

I get up again and peer into her booth. That’s a diplomatic signal for her to turn down the volume and let me have my own space.  Again, the dimwit meets my eyes briefly and goes back to business as usual.

I wait a few moments to see if she will turn it down. Nothing.

That’s it!  I get up with a start, storm over to her table, snatch up her phone and begin searching for the volume button. “What is your problem?! You are not the only one in here!” I glare at her dumbfounded face. “If I wanted to watch that show, I would watch it myself. Ever heard of headphones, stupid girl?!”

At this point, she is leaning in to maybe get up; she is a bit unsure of herself. I seize the opportunity, “Don’t even think about it, kid!” I manage to turn the volume down almost all the way. “If I hear that mess again, you won’t have a phone, ‘cause it’s gonna be part of the floor tiles! Stupid, selfish girl!”

Pause for dramatic effect. Deep breath. Confession.

OK, fine. That last part was in my head; but, you have to admit, you were right there with me!

The truth is, I thought of doing all that stuff, but there are these things called Kindness and Self-Control that my parents taught me. I know it’s not as common these days, but it’s still just as valuable and necessary today as it was when I was growing up. It’s timeless.

So, back to the story. Faced with this dilemma, I weigh my options: Yell at the clueless kid; use it as a teachable moment to make her aware of her need to consider the needs of others and not just her own; simply ask her to please turn down her show; tell management to handle it; or ignore it altogether.

Contrary to the belief of many, there really are several options for us to choose from when dealing with life’s issues. I choose to K.I.S.S. No, it doesn’t involve puckering lips. K.I.S.S means Keep it Simple Stupid. Just as I’m about to ask her to turn down her show, she packs up her stuff and leaves. Just like that. I’m back to peace again.

Perhaps, before taking any action, we can think over our options, then stop and wait a few minutes. By doing so, it can not only teach us the virtue of patience and delayed self-gratification, but can avoid the possibility of many simple conflicts going badly.

Thanks clueless girl.

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