Thursday, March 26, 2020

Unsolicited Solicitiousness

Among the joys of reading letters addressed to etiquette columnists is this--they offer an unadulterated glimpse into the American mind. At times, we would feel much better if we did not have such a direct vision into someone who, as happens in today’s letter, is self-righteously self-indulgently self-absorbed. And, someone who takes offense when people express concern for his or her health.

Happily, he or she writes to Miss Manners, who sees quickly that he or she needs a basic attitude adjustment.

I cannot tell you whether this letter writer is male or female. Whichever, he or she has quite an attitude. He or she becomes seriously aggrieved when people inquiring about his or her health. He or she is appalled that anyone would care about his or her well being.

Get it? Probably not. It makes little sense, but it shows a man or a woman horrified at the notion that people cannot read his or her mind and cannot understand that he or she might have stop bicycling for no other reason than that he or she needs to take a break.

Consider the letter:

I often enjoy bike rides, and, for various reasons, I tend to stop a lot while riding. I'm an introverted and private person. The problem: Often when I stop and get off my bicycle, another bicyclist comes along and stops to ask — or, rather, demands to know — "Are you okay?"

Each time I've been asked, there has been absolutely nothing about the situation that suggests that I am not all right. I am standing there, intact (not prone on the ground, not seated, not scraped and wounded, not looking upset or as if I just fell); my bike is intact; I am often on the phone; and what's more, I tend to be turned away from the approaching cyclist, to attempt to dissuade them from stopping and interrogating me.

Yet apparently, none of these things have proved useful to discourage this questioning. When I've voiced these concerns with those who've stopped to inquire about my state, these conversations have not gone well. Admittedly, I've been testy and sarcastic in my replies, which reflects my annoyance. I've explained that I have a mouth and two hands, and could very well call or signal for help if I needed it. Yet, such replies seem to always result in the other rider snapping at me that I'm quite rude, and insisting I should be grateful that they offered to help. These scuffles do not make either my ride or theirs more pleasant.

I could simply reply "yes, I'm okay," but to do that would be to support their practice of rather inappropriately and invasively (as I experience it) interrogating any stopped person, which I am reluctant to do.

If I say nothing at all, I am treated to a hail of insults as they ride off. If I try to explain why I don't appreciate being commanded to reply to an invasive question/interrogation, I'm again likely to be treated to a series of insults, but there's the off chance I might be able to illuminate someone.

Then again, perhaps it's futile to think I can have any impact at all, particularly if my reply evidences any of the annoyance that I feel. Do you have any words of wisdom?

Miss Manners is dutifully appalled by this psychic contortion, and by this seriously inconsiderate attitude toward people who, after all, are only inquiring as to the cyclist's health:

As irritating as you find people’s unsolicited solicitousness, discouraging people from showing concern for others is bad policy. Snapping at people makes the world a less pleasant place and, what may mean more to you, prolongs the encounter. Grit your teeth, repeat, “Thanks, I’m fine,” and go back to your phone.

Of course, it is a good thing that people show concern for others. When they see activity that deviates from the norm, they correctly inquire about the well being of the person, even if the person in question is not an acquaintance.

I know that you are entertaining a slightly different thought, so I will say it for you. Perhaps the solitary cyclist is a ravishingly beautiful female. Perhaps those men who stop to ask about her health are looking to make a new friend or even a new lover. In today’s gender neutered world we are not afforded such information, so we can only speculate about whether it is the cyclist’s abrupt stopping or her skin tight riding shorts.


JPL17 said...

What a creep. I think his behavior is even more anti-social than ascribed by Stuart and Miss Manners, because in addition to a rudeness issue, it's also a Code of the Trail issue. Many bike riders will routinely stop and ask if they can help whenever they see a lone biker stopped for no apparent reason. And it's not just because they suspect a possible health problem, but because the stopped biker might be having mechanical problems with his or her bike and be caught without tools to fix it, whereas the good Samaritan biker may have tools to lend. That's simply the Code of the Trail and it's a very good thing.

This creepy letter writer's rude behavior makes it less likely that Good Samaritan bikers will stop next time they see a rider in possible distress. So the letter writer isn't just hurting the Good Samaritan's feelings, but also hurting the next biker in distress.

The fact that the letter writer hasn't figured that out suggests that he/she/it doesn't care about others who may need help.

Sam L. said...

The stopped rider needs a shirt that says "I'm FINE. You pedal on. I'm just on my phone calling in some air strikes." And..."Oh, yes, I DO have some prickly heat."