I correct people’s grammar. I can’t help it sometimes; it’s something that runs in my family. I’d ask my mother “Can I please have a slumber party?” and she’d say, “You certainly may not.” When I hear someone say, “There are less surfers in Oregon than there are in California,” I can’t help but mutter “fewer surfers!” under my breath. A few times, I’ve corrected a stranger’s grammatical mistakes and ended up offending the wrong person (for example, the dental hygienist who was about to numb my mouth before a filling).As we walk through the world, it can be difficult to judge when to intervene when we see someone make a mistake that doesn’t necessarily directly affect us. Just last weekend, a guy in a car scolded a bicyclist for running a stoplight and ended up with a mangled windshield and some bruises to show for it. Almost every mom or dad has a story about a time when a stranger questioned his or her parenting skills in public. Many drivers choose to plaster their values right on their bumpers for all to see. Dog owners face daily choices about whether or not to follow leash laws and how to deal with others who make different choices. Cell phone users often have different ideas about etiquette. Smokers and nonsmokers, litter bugs and neat freaks, vegetarians and omnivores all have to find ways to reconcile their different values while sharing public space.
Have you ever chided a stranger or been reprimanded yourself by someone you didn’t know? How does an incident like that change your behavior? Where is the ethical line between righting a wrong and invading someone else’s private life?
- Naomi Zack: Professor of Philosophy at University of Oregon
- Jonathan Maus: Editor of BikePortland.org
- Beth Becker: Nursing assistant and owner of a dog named Maxie