OK, here's the scene: I'm getting on a bus in Midtown Manhattan this afternoon. As I'm entering the bus, an elderly woman is exiting the bus. She is engaged in conversation with the bus driver but no one is smiling. I don't hear her first comment, but I hear the bus driver say in the most unfriendly fashion "Is that the way you're going to ask me...?"
She replies "It's your job... just put down the step." It becomes clear that she wants the driver to activate the "kneeling bus" apparatus that makes the bus lower itself, making it easier to exit the bus. He says again, with anger in his voice, "Is that the way you're going to ask me?" She replies with haughtiness in her voice and a sneer on her face, "It's your job. Just put down the step." He refuses to do so and she gets off, with some difficulty maneuvering down the steps.
I pay my fare and go to a seat. I can't help thinking about the exchange between the two of them, the hostility, the mutual sense of mistreatment. The bus riding woman clearly feels if the City of New York provides buses that "kneel" then it's her right to take advantage of that offer. She doesn't feel she has to ask for it nicely, she can simply demand it. It's her right.
As to the driver, he too feels empowered. He feels he can expect to be treated well by riders and if they don't ask for things nicely, then he feels it is within his rights to refuse to perform the services they demand from him. Even if they are elderly and in need of the services.
There's a standoff here. Not at all the "Customer is always right" kind of mentality on the part of the bus driver. And as for the bus rider, she feels no need to be civil to this civil servant. He should do as she demands.
Hmmm. What kind of monster has been created here? Everyone is empowered, but empowered for what? To make demands but bear no responsibility to be nice?
Hardly the "conversational" kind of culture I want to live in. How about you?