Monday, March 1, 2010

There Are Basic Freedoms Here (And Let's Keep Them Basic)

A decent rule to live by is that you can do what you want, as long as it doesn't severely bother other people who are minding their own business. We have basic freedoms in this country. You can practice whatever religion you want, but just please keep it out of my face, ok? You can assemble in protest in front of a Hooters if you want, but don't get in my way if I'm trying to walk in. If I choose to take heed of your picketing and wailing about the plight du jour, I'll walk over to you myself and listen to what you have to say or read some of the literature I'm sure you brought along with you.

If you want to have a phone conversation while walking down a sidewalk or through a crowded mall, that's fine. It's a public place where people are mostly in transit anyway, and no one ends up being privy to your verbal exchanges for very long, so no harm (although you're still likely a douchebag, especially if you walk around talking on a Bluetooth. Ease up on the self-importance there, Mr. Lumbergh). But if you are on the phone in a place where others are planted for an extended period of time, like on a train or at the office, then you are committing a heinous social crime.

My desk is a place where I must be in order to accomplish the tasks of my job, just like my seat on a plane or train is a place where I am designated to be in order to serve the purpose of my being on such a conveyance in the first place. I am either there to work or to simply get from Point A to Point B. Overhearing your obnoxious cackle of a voice engaged in what you consider meaningful conversation was not what I came here for. If you are on the phone more than 2.5 minutes and it's not an emergency or other pressing situation, you've stepped over the line.

Most workplaces have a rule of thumb regarding personal phone calls and cell phone use, but some are most sternly enforced than others. Too many people think it's OK, while sitting at their desk within earshot of numerous others, to blabber on about how they started the wrong tight end in fantasy last week or whether someone needs to pick up bread on the way home or who's picking up their son JoJo the Idiot Circus Boy from practice tomorrow night. Most offices have break rooms or lounges or some place that you can carry on those conversations until the cows come home, or until the sun and moon align and you actually get your lazy ass back to work, whichever happens first.

And I hate to have to go in this direction, but I'd be holding something back if I didn't. General phone courtesy rules still apply to you if you speak another language. In fact, it's twice as annoying to listen to people at work thunder away on their phones in their foreign tongues. And it's not the foreign languages themselves; I don't want to give that impression. It's that, for some reason, whenever someone is speaking in a foreign language, their voice seems to amplify like they're James Hetfield or something. Holding a conversation in a language other than English does not exempt you from respecting those around you. Do they not have inside voices where you come from? I took four years of French and it was never presented as a linguistic norm to speak at a booming volume and pitch - I doubt any language really calls for this in its vernacular. I've had to listen to so much Russian at work in the past few years that I'm debating giving my first child the middle name Sputnik.

What gets me even more is the tolerance level a lot of people have for those who are on their phones way too much but speak in a different language. I get it if your family is on the other side of the world and you only have a certain window of time during the day that either party can talk to one another without interrupting sleep, but give me a break. Do you think if it were me, or any other English-speaking person talking on the phone for upwards of 30 minutes a day during time I'm supposed to be working, it would be looked upon the same way?

There are obviously exceptions to these rules, like if you have a family member serving in the military and any time you get a call from them, you take it and talk for as long as you can because you may only get to speak to them once a month or so. No one's ever going to take issue with that. Just like many other courtesies or small freedoms we have in day-to-day life, it's those who are given an inch and habitually take a yard that ruin it for everyone else. Just like we learn in 3rd grade social studies, every right has a responsibility that comes along with it.

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