Enduring the Socially Awkward Masses

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I visit the bank at least once a day. The other morning as I walked through the door I was met with the sound of a man talking very loudly- on his phone. He was standing at one of the teller stations, next to a woman who was being helped. He was standing so close to her, I assumed they were together.

I was wrong. That was just where he chose to wait in line. Not in the designated “on deck” spot next to the sign that instructs you to wait for the next available teller to call you. No, that waiting area was for the rest of us.

I couldn’t believe how loud he was speaking into his phone. He was having some kind of business conversation. He wasn’t angry, just loud- and he kept looking around the lobby at the rest of us as if we were all hanging on to his every word (not that we had a choice in the matter). 

The conversation continued into his own transaction, and as the teller turned her back to him our eyes met. She had a smirk, and I could tell she was fighting not to laugh at this guy. My presence made it harder, because they know me there, and I was clearly watching his behavior in disbelief.

If you have spent any time working with the public, you already know about the wide range of personalities out there. I am not sure on the percentages for those who understand the basic rules of polite public behavior, but I know it’s not encouraging.

Ask anyone who works in customer service. There will always be someone knocking on the door and peering into the windows a half hour before the store opens. Don’t knock. The store will open at the time indicated on the door, and not when you are first able to make eye contact with an employee inside. Some people don’t know that.

There will always be someone who doesn’t hesitate to sit down and order dinner five minutes before the restaurant is closing. There will always be someone to show up with unreasonable demands and a need to prove they are insane to at least two different managers before exiting the building. And there will always be someone who talks loudly on their cell phone while a frustrated employee attempts to help them. But, not all of these people realize they are being inconsiderate.

Now, the person who shows up before closing and sticks around for an hour? They know. They are just being selfish. They believe their convenience is more important than employees wanting to go home after a long work day. They just don’t care. One could argue that selfishness is its own social challenge, but I doubt they would find much sympathy.

Before autism came into our world I never had much compassion for the socially rude, but that has changed. I am constantly making a decision over whether or not I am being too judgmental of others’ behaviors. The socially awkward, while often rude, probably don’t get that they are being rude. I can deal with that. I can let it go, and hold no judgment- including that guy on the cell phone. The way he stood so close to that stranger while she completed her transaction instead of waiting behind the ropes was all the evidence I needed.  Obnoxious- but harmless.

Once I helped a guy who actually called a girl he met at a club the previous night while I was going over a contract with him. He just wanted to make sure she had a given him a real number, and THIS was the time he chose to make that phone call. Is there something wrong with this guy? Yes. But he was so clearly into himself, that I stand by my judgment of labeling him a jerk. The girl on the phone apparently felt the same way.

To me, there is a clear difference between these two guys. The fact that most of society is content to lump all of these people into one boat and label them inconsiderate jerks concerns me. If they can see an obvious disability in a person, they are more forgiving. But, as we know, the reasons for certain behaviors aren’t always so obvious. A lot of innocent, kind people must go through life clueless as to why everyone treats them with hostility or ridicule.

I don’t know that I can change that for society, but I can certainly change it for myself. I suspect it will continue to challenge me throughout my life.

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