Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.
Have you ever been tempted to start dancing crazily to the beat of the song that’s screaming from the ear buds of the teenager next to you on the bus? Or to ask the stranger who’s chatting boisterously on her cellphone to say “hello” to Jenny for you?
These would likely be inappropriate tactics to confront our transit annoyances, but how then does one stand up for basic etiquette in public spaces? The city of Vienna recently banned smelly food and even kissing on its subway trains, but where’s the line between unacceptable and just awkward?
Several Canadian cities have initiated creative, lighthearted “ transit-etiquette ” campaigns as friendly reminders to, for example, let others get off the bus first before boarding and leave your seat for elderly or disabled passengers. But when we polite Canadians witness inconsiderate behaviour in public, we may prefer to chill instead of challenge. Besides, that mom struggling with her stroller and holding up the rush-hour express isn’t exactly having a great day, and the rolling eyes of everyone on board are no help.
From littering and loudness, to smoking and swerving cyclists, we all have our pet peeves. But etiquette is truly a subjective thing and, in the end, we all just want to enjoy our public spaces without ruining them for others.
This week’s question: Given we all have our pet peeves, how can we encourage each other to be more sensitive to others in public?
Christopher Rouleau, creator of The Toronto Etiquette Project
“Bad etiquette is a collective concern that will not fix itself. In cases where citizens are simply forgetful of their manners, there should be no harm – or offence – in offering them a polite reminder. But when people are outright rude and disrespectful, they must be confronted. We all need to speak up for what’s right, and revive the necessity for common courtesy.”
Suzanne Nourse, co-author of The Power of Civility
“Etiquette is not about the knife and fork; it’s about the way we treat and make other people feel. Approaching someone directly on public transit about their behaviour is not recommended. Yes, politely ask someone to move their bag so you can sit down, but asking someone to turn down the volume of their music or conversation is best left to the driver.”
Derek Zabel, spokesperson for TransLink, Vancouver’s transit authority
“Taking transit means sharing space. Literally and figuratively, we’re all in it together. Even the simplest actions like being conscious of any large bags you have can ensure that everyone, including yourself, has a more positive transit experience.”