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More notes on the Age of Me

At first I thought it would be a sleepy trip. I was traveling Amtrak back from Philadelphia to New York on a Sunday night among folks whose days, and weeks, had mostly ended. I wasn’t in the quiet car but as I stowed my luggage and pulled out a book, spreading myself over the two seats I was lucky enough to have space to occupy due to the time of night, the relative silence in the car was broken by the loudest, most disruptive phone conversation I have ever heard.

The perpetrator was a lanky young man in a Phillies jersey and cap, slouched down in the two seats diagonally across from mine, feet up, arms waving with passion as he spoke. The conversation surrounded some extra work that was being required of him at his job:

“Yo, I’m makin’ 65 K,” he boasted, sitting up to look around the car for reaction. Then continued, “but that ain’t enough for dealin’ with that shit.”

The conductor came by then, took my ticket, and hovered over the loud talker briefly as he left, to check that he would indeed be exiting the train at the next station. The talker gave a quick nod and as the conductor walked away, he went on blabbing, “So yo, nah man, the train guy is up my ass. They kicked me out of the quiet car. What the fuck they got a quiet car for?! What, I can’t talk?!”

The loud talker eventually left us. He was headed to a party and planned to hit up his dealer before that. And barring a few odd sighs of relief, there wasn’t much noise in the train car after.

We don’t value quiet enough as a society. Or maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe we do, and we just value it more when we, personally, want quiet. I wrote last week about my trip to Philadelphia in the Amtrak quiet car, and the burgeoning problem of extreme individualism in America. I think this whole wanting quiet but only when we, personally, want quiet thing recalls that conversation.

“What, I can’t talk?!” the loud talker had shouted. And this perfectly illustrates the problem.

Of course you, me, the loud talker, anyone can talk. That is your right. But what we’re missing is the consideration for how others fit into the equation. Talking on the train and shouting an entire private conversation in an arrogant and disruptive way are not one and the same.

Here’s the thing about liberty: One person’s rights shouldn’t interfere with the rights of another. And I don’t think that this is an argument around regulation, though in serious cases that may be necessary. No, it’s an argument around taking personal responsibility to be considerate of the rights of others as we exercise our own personal freedoms. For example, not abusing our right to have a phone conversation on the train so that it interferes with the right of others to quietly read a book, or write a business paper, or sleep.

Another example: Some people don’t feel that anyone, least of all the government, should tell an individual what they may or may not put into or do with their body. That’s fair and in most cases perfectly reasonable until we hit on a topic like vaccination. Because for every rebel who decides not to vaccinate against Measels, Mumps and Rubella or Polio and Whooping Cough, for example, on principle or out of fear, there are others whose children are too young or too sick to be vaccinated, and are dependent on the protection herd immunity creates.

What about smoking? It is every citizen's right to smoke cigarettes, but it is also every citizen's right to breathe clean, fresh air should one choose not to smoke. Consideration for those around smokers when they're smoking is not only important for the sake of principle, but for the sake of public health. 

And in our nation's past did we not need to establish laws against discrimination in order to protect the rights of some from others who considered their own rights more important--so much more important that an entire group of citizens were persecuted and denied their own basic rights? (That was rhetorical. We did.)

Is it possible to design a society where everyone enjoys full equal rights without forcing everyone to participate?  One where no one feels compelled to be extremely inconsiderate towards, discriminate against, mislead, cheat or physically harm another? One where we put each other above catering to our own addictions and valuing money and possessions? That, I don't know the answer to.

These are just simple examples. And all of this is just meant as food for thought. I’d feel justified in calling today the Age of Me, but I don’t know that much has changed—maybe we’ve always been exactly this way and I’m just now becoming overly sensitive to it. Or maybe? It’s getting worse and it‘s time to start truly understanding that your rights don’t trump mine, and my rights don’t trump yours or anyone else’s. A little consideration can go a long way.

Alyssa YeagerComment