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The kindness of strangers

September 10th, 2009 | Posted by Amy Boughner in Parenting | Personal | Women's Issues

I have been fascinated to learn how differently one is treated when one is clearly pregnant.

I have coworkers who are always asking me how I’m doing, how’s my health, is everything okay, how am I feeling. Which is nice, though a bit odd at times. Today I was even told that I look gorgeous – something I disagree with since I feel huge today and my skin is starting to break out (yay hormones!).

But the thing that has me feeling really good is this: This morning I got on the bus to get to work. It was standing room only and I simply can’t stand up on a hot bus for twenty to twenty-five minutes at this point. I have been fearing this moment for a while. How does one politely ask for the priority seat that they are supposed to get automatically, knowing full well that these people are unlikely to give up their seats for some stranger, pregnant or not.

I have always been a person who gets up when she sees someone coming down the bus aisle that looks like they might need a seat, but I have seen many instances of people just ignoring the elderly, disabled and pregnant – pretending that they don’t see.

And that is why I was so pleasantly surprised this morning when, after I got on the bus and walked to the priority seating and said, calmly and clearly,”Can I have a seat please?” not one, but all four of the people already seated started moving to let me sit down.

I was shocked and thankful that it was so simple.

But it brings to mind something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: What kind of world will my daughter grow up in?

I was raised to think about the people around me. Joe thinks the same way, and it’s one of the reasons we like each other, and also one of the reasons we get so frustrated daily. Before I do things – tilt my seat back on an airplane, turn up my music – I think about whether it will effect the people in the vicinity. Every day I watch as the people around me don’t take the people around them into consideration, and it makes me angry. Every time I drive somewhere, I see one of the other drivers on the road make a decision that could put someone’s life at risk because they feel that their arrival at their destination, or their phone conversation is more important than the faceless people in the other cars who can’t possibly be as important as they are. Every time I go to the mall, I see people who feel they are somehow too good to stand in line, or decide that they are creating a new line – and people who wait in line and abuse the sales staff for being so busy, no matter how efficient they are.

When we took our train trip to Toronto a couple of weeks ago I was amazed by the people who thought that their conversations were more important than other people’s quiet, that their cell phones were too important to go on vibrate (it rings once, they forgot, it rings four times, they’re thoughtless), and their video games and movies were more important than everyone else’s peace. I also had a woman’s head basically in my lap almost the whole way to Toronto.

I try to be a kind person most of the time. I try to look at the bigger picture, and be patient and understanding. I plan to raise my daughter to be as kind and patient and understanding – maybe more, because lord knows I could do better in some situations. But if the rest of the world is going the other direction, where will that leave her?

I don’t want her exposed to ridicule or mistreated or simply because she didn’t put herself first. I don’t want her to lose out on opportunities because she can’t be aggressive enough and everyone else is looking out for number one. I don’t know how to reach a balance for her.

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