At a recent concert with friends, I’m enjoying the anticipation of hearing Loggins and Messina in a rare, benefit concert. Just before the house lights dim, an announcement reminds the audience to be aware of the exits and that “recordings and photography are not permitted.”
No sooner had the band begun playing then three people sitting directly in front of me, in a center section, were already snapping photos with their phones without a care in the world about the rules or any consideration to people sitting behind them.
After several minutes of this, my mind is spinning, going through possible next steps. Do I say something, ignore it, what?
If I say something it would only be to remind them of the rules, and their responsibility to follow those rules. Furthermore, it’s distracting as hell and disrespectful to have someone in front of you hold up the bright screen of a cell phone while you’re trying to enjoy a concert.
On the other hand, I remember that the ethical value of responsibility also includes the quality of self-restraint. Ethical people maintain self-discipline and self-control. I keep my mouth shut.
Fifteen minutes in, I spot a couple of ushers fast-walking down an aisle to my left. They lean in and remind others that photography is not permitted. The attendees comply.
However, we are sitting dead center and out of reach of the ushers.
Twenty minutes in and a woman in the row behind me has had enough. She asks the guy in front of her, sitting to my right, to tap photo-guy on the shoulder. When he does, the woman asks, in a loud whisper, to stop taking pictures.
A moment later, I lean over to the man sitting in front and to my left just as he’s getting ready to take another picture. “Could you please stop using your phone? It’s against the rules and distracting to the rest of us.”
He stops and… doesn’t take another photo until the end of the concert. And I’m pleased with my little demonstration of civic virtue.
It doesn’t last long.
The guy in front and to the right of me has just started up again, completely ignoring what the woman had asked him to do fifteen minutes ago. He begins to snapping away.
My mind again goes to the ethics of the situation: caring versus duty. “The thrust of the ethical obligation to consider and seek to advance the well-being of others,” ethicist Michael Josephson says, “is that one should consciously cause no more harm than is reasonably necessary to perform one’s duties.”
However, even after a reminder, the guy in front doesn’t care about anyone but himself!
I remember (rationalize) that “civic duty extends beyond one’s own self-interests, recognizing one’s obligations to contribute to the overall public good.”
I tap Mr. Selfish on the shoulder. “Could you please stop taking pictures. It’s not just wrong, you’re disturbing the people behind you who want to enjoy the concert!”
“Don’t touch me,” he says, “and don’t tell me what to do!”
Well, that went over well. But… he stops!
After fifteen minutes, the guy sitting to my right nudges me and nods something like, “good goin’!
The woman in the row behind me also takes notice and gives me a thumbs up.
You see folks, all you have to do is just be a little assertive in reminding someone that…
He just started taking pictures, again!
At this point, I become aware that my actions have now turned attention to me from others sitting in my row. Clearly, not what I intended. Now what?
The Golden Rule instructs that an ethical person is concerned with and responsible for the well being of others. Such a person considers the interests of all those they affect. The critical point: we must treat others better than they treat us.
I step back, reluctantly, and take a wider view of the situation recognizing that I’m now causing more fuss to others than Mr. Selfish.
He stops, again… for about ten minutes. At the end of the concert, before the first standing ovation, the guy slinks out of the theater.
And the lesson for me? I wish it had occurred to me sooner:
Discretion is the better part of valor. Part of that judgment means that I will not be sitting close to a concert stage any time soon.