A Time to Speak, A Time to be Silent
Earlier this week I was at Walgreens and I got into a line with several people in it, right behind two early twenty-something guys. One had his phone playing at full volume “music” (I shudder at using that word to describe it) that was just a bunch of angry, self-righteous talking/yelling, chock full of nothing but the f-bomb and variations upon it. The lyrics made Eminem sound like a choir boy. This wasn’t even musical—just somebody’s rant, like you were hearing one side of a heated conversation. The second guy of the pair ahead of me (who only talked loudly on his phone the whole time) had to tell the person on his phone to hang on when he got to the counter so he could grunt and point to the clerk which cigarettes he wanted. The whole episode lasted about three to four minutes, but it felt like an hour. The tension in that line was one you could feel physically crackling in the air.
It was just a really odd experience. And it lit an angry fire in me that I can honestly say I don’t experience very often.
I wanted to offer to buy the guy headphones…or a bar of soap. But instead I said nothing. I noticed he glanced at me once—almost as if he was challenging me to see if I would speak up—but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing it really, really made me mad. Besides, I didn’t know what to say to someone who was truly that inconsiderate and insensitive to his environment—we were in public at a Walgreens for goodness sake! If I’d scolded him, I would have only sounded like some goody-two-shoed old lady (I probably am) and really, would it have made him turn it down/off?
I’ll admit I absolutely hate confrontations. My body physically reacts to anger like I’m going to transform into a dragon, complete with flames coming out, so I try not to saying anything when I’m fired up. Standing there, I thought of several people I knew and wondered how each of them would have handled it had they been standing in that line. Not more than ten feet away from us was a mother with her toddler at the photo counter. As soon as those two had checked out, she and her child stepped up to the line, so I’m sure she had heard it, too, and had chosen to stay back. The guy in line ahead of them, probably in his late thirties, looked straight ahead the whole time and said nothing. The clerk, a woman who looked to be in her early twenties, checked them both through nervously, but said nothing to either of them about the music being inappropriate.
I asked Tyler and Emily what each of them thought about what to say—if anything—in that kind of situation. We had a good laugh spitting out scenarios of what would have happened had people reacted differently. Tyler asked me if I would have been so outraged if they’d been blasting gospel music. Probably not, although it was not only the filthy language that bothered me (yes, I’ve heard those words before), it was the volume level and the fact we were in a public place. After all, in the workout room in the building where I work people play music with similar curse-word laden lyrics all the time, and though that’s not my favorite music, I have never gotten angry about it. No, I believe it was the attitude of intimidation they were trying to project that ruffled my feathers the most.
Part of my anger was that I was disappointed in myself for not speaking up—not just for me, but for everyone else there. In reality, we all knew we’d just need to suffer through it those few minutes it took for them to get through the line, so I guess none of us felt it was worth the energy to enlighten some punk. And who wants to start a fight over something so seemingly trivial like offensive lyrics played loudly in public? But at what point do we as a society draw the line? At what point do we stand up for just basic decency in our corner Walgreens?
The experience was so surreal it did make me think of a weird type of social experiment that gauges people’s reactions—almost like a very lame segment on Candid Camera or Jackass. So I thought I’d ask Dragonfly readers what they thought about it. How would you have handled being in that line? If you’d spoken up, would it have been like a scene from a Clint Eastwood movie? Or a Mother Teresa teaching moment? Would you have addressed the obscenities with humor or appeal to them to be more thoughtful around little kids? Looking forward to hearing your comments either below or via Facebook.