Seats, Feet and Righteous Indignation — Judgemental Treatment of Others is Unjust

I haven’t been com­pelled to write some­thing in awhile, but this pic­ture and the accom­pa­ny­ing sto­ry at the star moti­vat­ed me. From the arti­cle, it seems it’s gone quite viral.  It seems top­i­cal in ref­er­ence to my last arti­cle “Life is not Fair.”  Here we have a woman (the arti­cle fur­ther points out a “white” woman) impos­ing her views on shared eti­quette on a man (the arti­cle points out a man of non-white skin) with right­eous indig­na­tion.  This is ever-so-exact­ly the type of Fair­ness Nazi that I was annoyed with.

Feet On Her Seat, Righteous Indignation

Feet On Her Seat, Right­eous Indignation

To both inform and save you from the details, the arti­cle and atten­dant viral video, so a young man with his feet on the seat of a appar­ent­ly most­ly emp­ty sub­way car in Toron­to.  Enter a woman who sees this and decides to “teach him a les­son” by sit­ting on his feet.  Then this all esca­lates.  He push­es, she press­es the pan­ic stop for the train, secu­ri­ty comes.  Enter­tain­ment for the mass­es and appar­ent­ly val­i­da­tion of right­eous indig­na­tion and judge­ment for some who view it.

It’s not that she may not have a point (she may).  It’s also not that the pow­er dynam­ic maybe skewed (it may).  There’s a prin­ci­ple here.  Tak­ing from my Chris­t­ian back­ground (and I“m not well versed enough to know how ubiq­ui­tous this con­cept is, but I choose to believe that it is shared), Jesus teach­es that it is not our place to judge.

Why do I feel that this should be a shared belief?  Cer­tain­ly there are judges in soci­ety.  Even among Ortho­dox Chris­tian­i­ty, old men in robes hold judge­ment over oth­ers (although I must say, the cur­rent Pope is refresh­ing­ly, bless­ed­ly, and ven­er­a­bly restrained in his judge­ment).  I hold that this should be a shared belief because the aver­age per­son exer­cis­ing “com­mon” sense is sore­ly lack­ing in con­text to make most judgements.

Per­son­al­ly, I can think of at least one good rea­son why some­one might put their feet up that we should all tol­er­ate.  I suf­fer from a fun­gus that occa­sion­al­ly allows oppor­tunis­tic bac­te­ria to infect my legs.  Espe­cial­ly when things are not well and espe­cial­ly after walk­ing some dis­tance, ele­vat­ing my legs can both bring relief and halt fur­ther dam­age that I will pay for some­what lat­er.  Pres­sure in the legs isn’t uncom­mon.  Seems like a design flaw in humans, if you ask me.  This is just one rea­son that it might be accept­able, how­ev­er, to be used as an illus­tra­tive example.

I’m not imply­ing that every­one should put their feet on the seat or that oth­er peo­ple should be denied a seat due to some­one’s (then) impo­lite footrest.  Our abil­i­ty to func­tion in pub­lic isn’t due to a rigid set of rules but rather a flu­id set of accom­mo­da­tions and con­ven­tions that we all stretch and test in one way or anoth­er.  Like any “law” these change over time and have vary­ing degrees of compliance.

Do you occa­sion­al­ly talk too loud?  Do you attempt to change peo­ple’s behav­ior by mak­ing them uncom­fort­able?  Do you have a pet that isn’t prop­er­ly trained?  Do you have an irri­ta­ble bow­el?  All these things and hun­dreds more can be con­sid­ered out of con­text to be fail­ures to accept and assim­i­late to the implied social contract.

Con­sid­er: We all judge.  From a Chris­t­ian per­spec­tive, even those qui­et thoughts are a sin.  Act­ing on judge­ments out of con­text goes from being a tech­ni­cal sin to a very real sin.  Act­ing out a judge­ment with right­eous indig­na­tion is a sin of pride on top.  There are sev­er­al ways this could have played out.  With­out know­ing, I’m will­ing to assume that this woman had, in the passed, asked peo­ple to be more polite and had this more polite (and more with­in the social con­tact) rebuffed.  Maybe not every time.  many peo­ple can react in kind when called out, but often enough that she (pos­si­bly) felt that esca­la­tion was necessary.

But even that is a judg­ment.  I can’t know what was in her head.  In effect, I can’t know her con­text.  I can only mar­vel at the con­se­quences of her actions and point out to any­one who would hold this as an exam­ple of jus­tice… that no appar­ent jus­tice was obtained.

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