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Radical Civility: A Crisis of Faith

RadCivlittle.jpgI saw "District 9" over the weekend--a Friday matinee, actually (ah, the perks of being a columnist).

The movie was great, but I'm afraid I have a confession to make: There was a man texting in front of me and I didn't do anything.

Here I am supposedly leading this charge to get people to police their behavior -- a movement that depends on the radically civil amongst us politely pointing out to miscreants that their actions are annoying -- and I couldn't even bring myself to say anything.

Can you ever forgive me?

I've given this some thought over the last few days in an attempt to understand my actions -- or lack thereof. Here are some of the possible explanations -- not excuses -- that I've come up with:

I was afraid of physical violence. Doesn't really apply. The guy wasn't that big and he was by himself. I didn't pick up any threatening vibes from him.

I was too embarrassed to say anything. I'm basically a shy person. Really I am.

I was alone. We often get strength from others. If I'd been with a group of people, perhaps I would have felt emboldened to confront the man.

My Lovely Wife wasn't with me. Going somewhere with my wife is sort of like being in the company of a Mafia enforcer: There are times when you're worried things might escalate, but it's often nice to have a bit of muscle. I'm sure she would have said something. Perhaps living with her these past 20-plus years has caused certain of my, um, attributes to atrophy. I'm so accustomed to her intervening that I no longer have the skills.

I wasn't that bothered by him. There's a little truth in this. I wasn't watching a subtle tear-jerker of a movie but a sci-fi shoot 'em up. Still, I should have said something, especially since I spent much of the film obsessing about the exact conversation that we're having now, knowing that I would have to confess to you.

Does this call into question the entire concept of Radical Civility? I hope not. I promise to do better next time. I also noted that the theater -- the Majestic in Silver Spring -- did not screen an anti-texting message before the feature started, nor did it have any anti-texting signage outside each theater, as I saw at a theater in South Carolina.

But that's just shifting the responsibility to someone else. I do think that theater managers should be the front line of defense, but the battle must include polite protestations by us.

Your thoughts? Have you been in my situation? Do you always step up to the plate or do you sometimes link into the dugout?

By John Kelly  |  August 18, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Radical Civility  
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I once went to a midnight showing of 1408. There were many teenagers in the theater. One boy talked on his phone repeatedly, and since he had already seen the movie shouted, "Oh man watch this!" before every scary scene. I am an adult woman but I was alone and intimidated and said nothing. The whole movie was ruined.

Posted by: L8yF8 | August 18, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Maybe you have just worked yourself up over this, JK. If you had been annoyed sufficiently by that guy, you would have said something. I have faith. He must not have been a great bother that time, or it says a good deal about the quality of the movie.

Posted by: OldLady1 | August 18, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

You may be shy, but you approach strangers for a living, and you could easily have turned the experience into a blog post or column much diferent from this one -- even interviewed the texter after the movie. Remember, you are the guy who kidnapped an Irishman in broad daylight!

I think you realized deep down that the texting was no big deal (perhaps an indirect result of gaining some perspective from reading Step Away from the Baggage Claim?). I think you may even be feeling guilty and wrote this mea culpa in order to avoid the realization that the whole Radical Civility movement is grounded in Your Lovely Wife's over-sensitivity.

(But don't tell her I said so.)

Posted by: Epigon | August 20, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

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