How many ways can people find to annoy each other? Judging from my mail, quite a few. Many annoyances are part of everyday life, but others come our way because some people do not behave themselves or manage their children or pets properly.
This is an area where etiquette and ethics merge.
For instance, toddlers can become overactive in public, and most of us accept that. But when parents in a crowded restaurant keep an unhappy child in his booster chair, that can be a problem. The parents have the option of taking the child outside to calm him down. The other patrons, however, unless they want to abandon their meals, have no such option.
When your child imposes on fellow diners, etiquette demands that you remove him/her. Should other patrons do anything? Aside from perhaps asking the management to act, frustrating though it seems, no. Etiquette does not allow you to correct other peoples’ manners.
What about cell phones in a theater, church or restaurant?
I recently enjoyed a few hours of pampering at a salon. One customer decided to conduct her realty business, by phone, in the presence of the other customers. She spoke loudly, discussing the intimacies of her business and her personal life. The normal snooze I always enjoyed while in the ‘pedi’ chair, never materialized. The salon owners, who should have handled the situation, did not. Judging from the comments made after the offending customer left, the salon lost clientele by failing to act.
What about when someone cuts in line at the movies or the grocery? Should you speak to the offender, or let it pass? While rude and aggravating, this is a minor offense. Generally, you should ignore it. If you choose to speak, you may politely say something like, “Excuse me, but I believe I was next.”
What do you do if you see a parent go overboard in disciplining a child in public? If it is a matter of different disciplinary styles, nothing. If it constitutes child abuse, etiquette and perhaps the law require you to act. You could ask the parent applying the punishment to stop, or you may call a manager or the police to report the abuse.
When people do not conduct themselves properly, three simple rules determine whether you may speak up:
First, if the conduct is directed at you alone, etiquette permits you to ask the offender to respect your limits.
Second, if the conduct inconveniences a large group as a whole, you should ask the manager to intervene.
Third, if the conduct endangers you or others, you should call for assistance.
Many etiquette breaches, ranging from how people handle their pets to how they drive, also raise ethical questions.
When there is danger from the etiquette violation, you are required to act. Otherwise, you must remember that no one has charged you with correcting the manners of those around you. (That is my job. Smile.)
To the contrary, you usually violate etiquette by doing so. (You may, however, mutter about them under your breath.)