Yesterday morning the bus was filled to capacity of tired and quiet passengers heading up to campus for class. Those of us getting on at the last stop found ourselves standing in the aisle. As we reached for the overhead bar I heard a young man ask someone, “Would you like to sit down?” The woman he had spoken to looked slightly surprised and responded with a somewhat hesitant, “Sure.”
When he stood up to give her his seat I understood why she had seemed surprised. Based on his appearance, he did not seem to be the type of person willing to give his seat up for a woman in her thirties. In all honesty, he looked like a gangster. Of all the men sitting down on that bus, I never would have guessed that he would be the one to give up his seat.
Although I don’t mind standing up on the bus and I don’t expect men to give up their seats for me, I couldn’t help but wonder what stopped the other men on the bus from offering their seats to the women standing up. In my three years of experience with the Aggie Shuttle, I’ve found that most people on the bus are nice. And yet, seeing a man give up his seat for a woman is somewhat rare. At first glance, this appears to reflect badly upon men–that there aren’t enough gentlemen. However, it’s more of a bad reflection on our society.
There are two kinds of people in our society. The first kind (and most common kind) are those people who sit down on the bus and can think of no reason why they shouldn’t be sitting. They got there first and it is fair. The second kind of people sit down, but can think of no reason why they deserve to be sitting there. They find someone who needs that seat more.
There is nothing wrong with the first kind–I am one of them. For the most part we are good people. We try to not cause trouble and want things to be fair. However, we have a skewed definition of the word fair. We think it’s fair to sit down on the bus because we got there first, even though it is unfair to the girl standing in the aisle who is too short to reach the overhead bar.
Those of us who are the first kind of people often have a hard time separating fairness and entitlement. We think because something is fair, we are entitled to it. If good fortune happens upon us, we congratulate ourselves and collect the reward. We never ask if the good fortune is something we deserve, and we never wonder if someone else needs it more. We got it and it is ours. We are fair, but inconsiderate. There are far too many of us who belong to this first kind.
I admire the second kind of people. I admire the person who lets the mother with a million groceries and three screaming children cut ahead of him in line at the store so that she can get out of there as soon as possible. I admire the person who purposely halves the cookie unevenly so that the person she’s sharing with gets more than her. I admire the young man who gives up his seat on the bus for someone else simply because he thinks it’s a nice thing to do.
I admire every person who realizes that he or she can get by with circumstances that are less-than-fair if it makes someone else feel good, and I want to be like that.