I’ll admit it. I’m the problem of America. There…I said it. Are you happy now?

I was all set this morning to write about fighting with Bible beaters in the subway because I, a lapsed Catholic, know my scriptures better than those hypocritical preachers…but then I had a different experience in the subway:

The subway wasn’t crowded, but if you wanted to sit you would have to stake your claim on a half-seat between two people taking up more than their fair share of a seat.  I was lucky enough to find the last seat between two empty seats and the row was immediately filled by two women on either side of me.  The woman on my right definitely had to squeeze in…which she did.

Ten seconds go by until the much larger woman on her right elbows her…hard.

“That’s what you get for not saying ‘excuse me’.”


“That’s not nice.  Where were you raised?”

At this point I was starting to formulate a response for this poor woman that seemed at a loss for words:

Nice?  Do you think elbowing people is nice?  Where were you raised that you think it’s appropriate to elbow someone to teach them how to be nice?

Something like that…I was formulating it in my head and checking the temperature of the train, but the encounter was brief enough that by the time I had my “Do you think elbowing people is nice?  Where were you raised?” ready to go just after she had humphed and headed to the other end of the car.

“I was about to back you up.”


“You can’t behave like that, elbowing strangers just because they don’t act the way you want them to.  I was going to put her in her place.”

Various people around me nodded in support.

“Well, you also can’t yell at everyone that doesn’t act the way you want them to.  What’s the difference between an agressive gesture and agressive words?  You’re still using violence to make someone behave the way you want them to.  You just wanted to do it verbally where she did it physically, but it’s really the same thing.”

The train was quiet.  No one knew how tor respond…except for me.

“Um…” was as much as I had.

“You can’t answer violence with violence.  Answering a gesture with an elbow is the same as answering an elbow with shouting.”

I noticed that she was speaking with an accent and asked where she was from.  Turns out she was Dutch.

It seems that it’s a very American thing to force people to act the way that we think is appropriately and we often feel better about it because we do it more civilly than our enemies…whether it is more civil diplomacy or dropping bombs more civilly.  According to my Dutch friend, though, it’s the same thing: aggressively forcing someone to behave the way that you think is “right” is rarely appropriate.

I guess I’ll stop arguing with subway evangelists…


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