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Society [Mar. 7th, 2010|05:46 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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I had to run to the store for some OJ. When I got to the counter, there was a homeless guy in front of me. On top of being in a wheelchair, he seemed to have multiple physical disabilities.

He had some bills up on the counter and was counting out the rest of his change in coins. Although it was under two dollars, it took him several minutes to count it, and occasionally he'd just space out and stare into space for a while before resuming. By the time he was done, there was a sizeable line behind me.

Before I say anything further, I want to make it clear that I'm not blaming this guy. He seemed to be in pain and I can't imagine what it must be like to go through life as he does. He was probably doing the best he could.

That said, I find it absurd that as much as I would have liked to just give him two bucks to clear the line, I couldn't because it is socially unacceptable. It would be rude and patronizing, among other things. This is one of many ways in which society makes me pretend that my time has no value.

I'm perfectly happy to treat social norms as an arbitrary set of rules, and I have no trouble learning them and playing by them, but that doesn't mean any of it makes an iota of sense to me. It never has and probably never will.

From: fixious
2010-03-08 02:58 am (UTC)
This is one of many ways in which society makes me pretend that my time has no value.

No, it doesn't, because this isn't about the value of your time. That's just a secondary consequence. The opportunity to lead, or attempt to lead, a normal life probably matters to this guy at least as much as your time does to you. It's unfortunate that these two things were in conflict today, but that hardly means that this particular social norm is arbitrary.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-03-08 02:59 am (UTC)
That makes sense. Thanks.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-03-08 06:33 am (UTC)
Just curious. Are there other things you find arbitrary or do you feel everything is just the way it should be?
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From: fixious
2010-03-08 07:01 am (UTC)
Of course lots of social conventions are arbitrary. You'll be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees, unless they've lived in a tiny closed community all their lives.
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[User Picture]From: iliada
2010-03-08 05:26 am (UTC)
I disagree with your assumption that jumping in and offering two bucks would be automatically considered rude and unbecoming. I did it a few times in my old country by offering a few roubles to pour souls who were scrambling for small change. Never once it was rejected. It probably depended on the motivation too---I viewed it as the most efficient form of charity (helping where and when it mattered, by helping them buy something they obviously wanted and just barely could or couldn't afford).
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-03-08 06:09 am (UTC)
Now it's getting worse — we can't even agree on what the rules are :-)

It would be OK in India as well. But I would be very hesitant to try it here.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-03-08 06:32 am (UTC)
You're right. I worded that poorly. fixious pointed it out above as well. The norm isn't about my time; that's just a side effect.

What I was getting at was that if the waiting was directly costing people money, it would be treated very differently. But since it's "only" time, the polite thing to do is to do nothing.

Your situation is very familiar. I think every couple argues over it :-) Whether it is getting out of a party or getting out of the house. I know how you feel. I guess each couple needs to figure out what works for them.
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