Take a Stand

January 26, 2011 at 11:20 am 7 comments

If you follow me on Twitter, you know what happened to me this morning, and how my faith in humanity was crushed then restored within about a six minute span. I want to give a little more perspective on it, pat myself on the back for standing up because it’s something I’m trying to do more of in the new year, and maybe give you the inspiration to either stand up and say something or thank someone who does today. Both go a super long way in fixing a lot of broken stuff in this world.

The buses in Boston, and I’m guessing in most cities, have a sign above the seats in the front that ask riders to please make sure those seats first go to people who are elderly or who have trouble standing.


Be sweet and offer your seat MBTA ad

They even have ads that reinforce giving up your seat

After discovering during my 20s that I’m actually a Southern girl at heart, it makes me sad to see instructions on how to be polite pasted to a window, and even sadder when they are ignored. This morning the bus pulled over and lowered to assist a woman who clearly wasn’t able to take a large step to get on. As she shuffled carefully into the door, a teenage boy shoved past her and grabbed the first seat on the bus. She steadied herself as the bus pulled away from the stop, unable to get to the seat on his other side while the bus was moving, so the boy’s younger companion swiftly took that seat. They both stared at her, then looked away.

“Teenagers are jerks,” you’ll tell me, and with a few exceptions I’ll agree. Now add in to this scenario that the seats across the aisle featuring the same politeness instructions were filled with grownups. Three grownups in work clothes.

My first angry tweet on the MBTA bus

I was seated two rows back, aghast. I was so angry! Normally my reaction to something like this would be to sit and stew angrily, letting my frustration with a few people boil over into being overwhelmed by the general stink of crappy people and hating everyone. I’m trying to do less of that this year, though, so I thought about confronting the people around her and asking them to stand. I didn’t have a lot of faith that an approach like that would work, since they had no shame in sitting comfortably while an old woman clung to a pole for dear life in front of a bus full of people. So instead I got up and asked the woman if she wanted help to my seat or another nearby seat while the bus was moving. She headed carefully toward the next available seat muttering that she just wanted to sit down and no one would let her sit down. My anger got the best of me and I said, “Well they’re just lazy and stupid and what can you do?” and sat back down.

Sometimes the lack of human civility makes me want to cry

In hindsight, I should try to bite my tongue when I want to throw out snarky comments to total strangers. It’s gotten me into trouble in the past. I’ve had people yell at me, approach me with chest puffed out (men and women), or one woman who, after I made a comment a little too loudly following the third time I asked her to please mind that the huge purse she was carrying was walloping me in the head, got right up in my face and started screaming about what a bitch I was. Literally screaming. (Other passengers nearby averted their eyes, by the by. Thanks, y’all.) Luckily nothing bad happened today, but it’s an important note to make.

What did happen was that when I got off the bus there was a young woman who had already deboarded who approached me and said, “Hey, thanks for saying something. Those guys were jerks for not getting up.” I was completely blown away. I was honest with her about how I’ve been trying to do more of that, and she laughed and said, “I don’t think I would have been as nice if I’d said something.”

And then people surprise you, and faith in humanity is restored
And just like that, my day turned back around. It’s really easy for me to get dejected and hurt by things people do around me that have nothing to do with me (my friend Eric once said I was “too sensitive for this waking world.”) and that makes my days sort of tough. But I’m also luckily the sort of person for whom a little gesture goes a long way. This woman not only inspired me to stick up for myself and other people more, but to also make sure to thank people who do the same.

Together we stand! While the elderly sit.

How do you react when you see something like this? Do you speak up? Why or why not?

Entry filed under: Boston, jerks, stress. Tags: .

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Janet Aronica  |  January 26, 2011 at 11:27 am

    You’re just an awesome person and you care so much more than others and the world is better because we have people like you in it. That is all.

  • 2. Meg  |  January 26, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I’m known for being diplomatically mouthy with people in public to get them to stand up/help others… and then less diplomatically mouthy when they don’t do it. 🙂

    I spent WAY too many years supervising teenagers and young adults to sit silently when I know they can do better for others. Often a joke and a firm look in their direction is enough, but I’m not afraid to very directly ask them to do what needs to be done.

    I was once sitting in the back of a bus with a bunch of teenage boys who were throwing a football between them across seats and rows. An older woman was in the middle of all of it, looking petrified.

    When the ball went past my head, I caught it, and held it up to the window. “I can let this *accidentally* fall out the window, or you can stop throwing it, guys… up to you.” One of them mouthed me off, but the other one said, “No way, that’s my football. Shut up, man.”

    So I held onto it while they glared at me, until the old lady got off the bus, with an expression of relief. I went over and sat with them, and started a conversation about it that didn’t actually suck.

    Whenever I’d see them after that, I’d crack jokes about other sports equipment they should try to bring on the bus (a soccer goal, ice skates), and saw an improvement in their awareness of the folks around them.

    Keep doing it, girl!

  • 3. Susan  |  January 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I always offer my seat and try not to judge others that don’t. You never know what’s going on in their lives–if they have an injury you can’t see or are having the most horrible day of their lives. (I imagine I wouldn’t be able to stand if I’d been fired, lost a loved one, etc.)

    I consider it an honor to be able to give up my seat. By doing something that easy, I made a person’s day SO much better. I love being a part of people’s lives in small ways. And I always hope for the same kindness in return.

    One day I received the kindness. I started feeling ill on the train in to work. Someone gave up their seat, which was a godsend. I was feeling better so I got off at my stop. At the top of the escalator, I nearly collapsed. Two lovely young gals (lordy I sound old saying that) helped me. One ran up to a street vendor and bought me a bottle of water. Then they made sure I got on the train heading home. I couldn’t believe how kind they were while hundreds of others passed me by.

    You gotta have faith in people, or else life would be too depressing. Those two ladies restored my faith, and I hope when I give up my seat, I restore the faith of others.

  • 4. Jenny  |  January 26, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Good for you for standing up (literally, too!) for that woman — I have definitely been in the habit of “sitting and stewing” rather than getting up and making it better somehow. Your post reminds me that usually, one kind act begets another!

    Not sure why, but the insensitivity/inconsiderate behavior of people around me (particularly during my commute every day) really gets to me. Maybe it’s the time of year, or maybe I get too angry about things I can’t control. Then again, maybe we all just need to try to treat each other a little better. Take one mean or selfish instinct and replace it with a caring one — every day!

    I’ll keep it up if you will =)


  • 5. Melissa  |  January 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    I’m with you, Jenny. I get so disheartened with the disrespectful way people treat each other, especially in this city! And Tom gets actively angry. If everyone was just a little bit more thoughtful and considerate, what a difference it would make. Go you for being the person who did a good deed today and glad you were reminded that there are others out there who feel the same way.

  • 6. Jennifer Spencer  |  January 26, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Thanks, everyone! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who gets so upset by things like this (at least if I’m crazy I’m not the only one!) and hearing stories of how you handle things or have been grateful for someone who did makes me think I’ll be a little more bold the next time, too.

  • 7. chris  |  January 27, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    That was a great thing you did to help that woman, I bet she appreciated it.

    I have a problem opposite yours, I tend to speak up all the time on the T and people get annoyed. I usually just ask myself if I really care — I don’t. I’d much rather make sure someone who needs a seat gets one than be overly polite to the socially ignorant.


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