How far should a private person go to prevent a public wrong?
We’ve all seen news stories about how people get away with bad behaviour
because no one around them wants to be the one to tell them. Whether
it’s people taking handicapped parking spots, taking reserved seats,
talking rudely in public … no one wants to have to bear the brunt of a
pissed off rebuttal.
We had a situation recently at Nathan’s school. There is a dedicated
bus lane with no parking signs around it to make sure the buses have
room to get out. But many parents park there anyway to drop off or pick
up their children, leading to dangerous levels of congestion. Last
week, my husband spoke to one of these parents and suggested she find
somewhere else to park. She was very indignant and offended with him.
Since she recognized Nathan, she stopped by our house later to complain
about him pointing out that she was parked illegally.
I think she was somewhat surprised when I didn’t agree he had been
completely unreasonable. Dave was home and defended himself and the
discussion got quite heated. Eventually I stepped in to say that it
wasn’t going anywhere and I thought it was best to leave it as a
As far as I can tell, her entire defence was that she was running late
and didn’t want her kids to be late (since she would then have to stop
and take them into the office and sign them in) and on a secondary note,
she didn’t think it was Dave’s place to call her out for parking
illegally and creating a potentially dangerous situation.
Personally, I disagree on both points. I get the temptation to bend the
rules when you’re running late. It seems almost criminal not to squeak
by, especially when lots of other people do it, too. But it’s still
wrong and when it is a situation of public safety, I think it is all our
responsibilities to point it out to the individual in question. It’s
embarrassing to be caught but pretending there’s nothing wrong is a far
more offensive position in my view.
I’ll admit that I’m a bit more of a coward when it comes to pointing
things out (or discreet, pick whichever adjective you want). I will
make “friendly suggestions” like: oh, I guess you didn’t see the no
parking sign. If those are ignored, I might suggest alternatives (like
pulling into a driveway instead of the bus lane, still illegal but
safer). If there’s still a problem, I have been known to alert the
authorities to violations. I don’t like getting confrontational, but I
do believe it is part of my job as a community member to be aware of
Maybe it’s because I have difficulty picking up subtle social cues or
because I know my husband and children have even more trouble than I do,
but I really don’t like it when there is a whisper campaign about how
someone is doing something “wrong” but no one will tell them about it.
If you’re going to complain to your friends then you should have the
guts to say it to the person’s face. There are lots of occasions where
it truly is just ignorance rather than a willful defiance.