Thursday, September 28, 2006

how to tell loud people to shut up

the 'Back Me Up' Campaign

----You're on the bus. Maybe the subway. You're minding your own business. Maybe you're reading, or listening to music, maybe you're just people watching. The bus stops, the train stops, the doors to wherever you are open and.. in they walk. You wouldn't have even looked towards the door, you were lost in thought until now. Commotion. Loud. Annoying. Voices. You're looking for what must be a nerd that some unruly bullies are picking on. Except there is no nerd being picked on.. just four loud, high-pitched, loud teens (that are loud).
----Everyone looks for a second or two, then looks away. You feel the collective grinding of nerves of your fellow transit-mates, or restaraunt mates.. or wherever.
----Why? Why are they talking so F'ing loudly??? How can they not know that they are annoying everyone around them?? But of course, since you are not a complete moron, you know, for a fact... that they don't care. Not one iota. They are in the moment. They are fully absorbed in the psychological phenomena of teen (or pre-teen, or drunk) group dynamics. You see the elderly bristle and cast occassional dirty looks, too far removed from what it was like to run around in these loud, mini-mobs. The middle aged are thinking about things like 'respect', 'common courtesy' and the decline of civilization as they knew it, all the while hoping to the gods that their kids don't turn out to be so freaking annoying. The 20 and 30-somethings, being closer in age, watch the disgusting display of what it was like to be that age and sit, self-loathing at the fact that they may have ever been even remotely like that. Your thoughts mirror those of everyone around you: why dont you shut the F&@# up already?!?! good GOD! You are impressing NO ONE with your ability to be the center of this bus' attention! Your sharing of the details of your campus soap opera do NOT need to be expressed at volume level 11.5 Did you really just say you would "tap that ass"??? If I screamed really loud, like a ferret just bit me in the privates, would they shut up?? You think all these things. You say nothing.
----Fast forward to 10 seconds after you get off the bus.
----You.. didn't say anything. Did you? No one stood up to the little self absorbed, walking rubber bands of ego. Again. You're disgusted with yourself and with everyone around you. Hell, I'm disgusted with you and I wasn't even there. Were they carrying guns? knives? Were they big dudes, wearing ninja outfits, were they naked and crazy? No. no. As usual.. No. A busload of adults, held auditory-hostage simply because no one spoke up. Well, the root reason is that they chose to ignore the social laws of public decency. Oh sure, you've done it yourself before, there's no need to pretend you've never been a boorish public buffoon. Maybe it was the last time you drank too much with friends before heading to that bar downtown. Maybe during an excited cross country phone conversation with a friend you haven't talked to in years. Or maybe, just when you and your friends were 15, en route to see Rocky III for the fourth time. You were in the moment.. until ..that moment when you realized you were that loud, obnoxious guy you normally hate. "Screw it. I'm in the moment!", you thought. Or maybe you didnt. Maybe you experienced a twinge of guilt and moved on. All I'm saying is, you know the moment we're talking about - you know it when you do it and you certainly know it when you're forced to endure others doing it. And no, such behavior is not understandable, it's not excusable, it's not an "adorable outlet for youthful energy" - it is obnoxious, socially unacceptable behavior and to sit back and take it, year after year after year makes us all.. I'm sorry, but it’s true.. social weaklings.
----What am I suggesting, then? Raider Shoulders? Nope. too passive, in this situation. You want quiet.. that's really all you want. For you and your fellow travelers. But you're just one person and they're four. So, really - what can you do? Nothing? You've already tried that.. how'd that work out for you? Exactly. "But if I speak up, surely this group of teens will gang up on me and ridicule me and my bus-mates will look on in sympathetic horror as I toss myself to these wolves". Boo Hoo. Time to grow up. And grow a pair. In fact.. grow a busload of pairs. Your moment in the sun draws nigh... ready? Put on your sternest face and say: "Hey!! keep it down! please! you're in fucking public, no one wants to hear you all" (cursing gets their attention and appeals to their cool-people-curse! vernacular). One of them, probably the alpha-jerk of the group, will rebound with "shut up, old man" or "make me" or "perhaps it is YOU who should be the one doing the shutting up!!" .. something along those lines. This is where you employ your secret weapon, your social liberator, your Power-to-the-People-er-(er?).
----"No one wants to hear your bullshit" (again, displaying your coolness) and then drop the real bomb on, not just them, but everyone who had been dying to speak up - to the rest of the bus, quickly add: "Can I get an Amen, people??". While you're saying that, turn and look directly at either a) the biggest dudes on the bus who will physically back you up, if need be b) the people who are looking at you, shocked, but smiling in agreement c) the elderly and/or crazy people who just like to talk, period d) the bus driver e) all of the above. If one or more of your (former) hostages dont immediately throw in a token "Amen!" (and really, who doesn't like to say Amen?), you will then add "c'mon, back me up, here my peoples" (and really, who doesn't love being called "my peoples"?). At the very least, you will diffuse the tense situation somewhat and probably get a good chuckle out of those with a sense of humor. If all of that fails, turn back to the loud-talkers, sigh, and say "Alright. everyone wants you to shut the hell up, but everyone's too scared to speak up, I guess. Go ahead and talk as LOUDLY as you want... OR.. or you could have some fucking respect and keep it down". Now is the moment where it’ll seem like no one really knows what to do, but the fact that you've out-loud-ed them and shamed your whole bus will probably tip things in your favor - (if there's one thing that'll make a group of people stand up for themselves, it's being told they're scared of a much, much smaller group of people (assuming those people dont have guns or badges)). Whether anyone volunteers a better-late-than-never "Amen" or not.. these people now do have your back. You will not be getting your ass kicked today (chin up! there's always tomorrow!) and while you probably haven't made the best of friends with the loud-talkers or your busmates and while everyone involved may have learned absolutely nothing.. you will have stood up for yourself.. and for others. Mostly, you stood up for a considerate society that isnt intimidated into quietude.
----It doesn't have to be loud teenagers - it could be anyone, any group of people. Two loud homeless guys. Or three business jerks. Or five soccer momish coworkers out on the town. Blind Peruvian little people, even. Or three people just like you. They'll come in all shapes and sizes. They all, however, come in the same volume and same level of self-awareness: loud, and none.
----You can tell them to shut up. It is possible. You just need someone, or a lot of someones, to answer your call to "Back Me Up". If you inspire even a few people to stand up for themselves at some later point, you've made your city that much better of a place. Contrary to all the "dont sweat the small stuff" mantras bandied about these days, I say "do sweat the small stuff", before it becomes 'big stuff' and because sometimes, the small stuff is the only stuff you can change. Or, you can keep letting the ..busmates run the asylum, saying and doing whatever they want to, wherever they want to. Stand up for youself. Stand up for the mother covering her daughter's ears so she doesn't have to hear some wannabe street thug teens try to out-gross out or out-loud or out-sex-talk eachother. Stand up, because you can. Because you should. Stand up because someone has to be the first domino.
----Can I get an Amen?

p.s. as with the Raider Shoulder, use common sense in who you confront. Gang members, body builders, pirates and ninjas, among others, have reputations to protect. Do not challenge them. As a rule, avoid shushing those with weapons, muscles that overlap more muscles, chemical imbalances or briefcases that tick. Also, check out your fellow busmates before you speak up. Does it look like they'll back you up? If you see them all speaking in sign language to eachother or everyone's got headphones in, chances are, you'll be a little out of luck asking for an Amen. Common sense, as always, is the cornerstone of Safety First.

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