Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Judge Not?

A few days ago, as I was making my way through the city centre, I happened to be walking a couple of yards behind a man. As we went along, I noticed him dropping a piece of paper on to the ground. He didn’t stop to pick it up, of course.


Now if there’s one thing that really gets a whole herd (if herd is the word) of my goats, it’s littering. It’s completely unnecessary - there are bins all over the place, for pity’s sake!

What to do, though?

In situations like this, I usually just seethe silently, being far, far too chicken to actually tackle the offender. I have been known to pick up litter and bin it myself. I may even have tutted loudly on occasion, but that’s as far as it goes usually.


For some reason on this particular day, a couple of my self-preservation/embarrassment-limitation synapses must have been on the fritz, for I suddenly found myself speeding up to draw level with this terrible, ghastly, anti-social, vandal, this desecrater of public spaces, this contemptible scofflaw, this, this.... little old man.

The balloon of my righteous indignation popped. All the acerbic and, no doubt, hugely witty comments I was going to make just melted away.

Now, don’t get me wrong, little old men are not, per se, entitled to drop litter any more than anybody else is, but there was just something in the fellow’s demeanour that stopped all my windbaggery in its tracks.

Instead of, “Oy! You rotten litter lout, thanks for making the place look so nice – NOT!” I ended up saying “Excuse me, but I think you might have dropped something back there and I thought I should let you know in case it was important.”

“What? Where?” he asked, clearly a bit surprised to be spoken to by a stranger out of the blue. I indicated the fallen paper. He looked at it for a moment, then suddenly seemed to realise what it was. He grabbed it up quickly with many thanks, as though it had indeed been something of importance to him.

Now, he may have been an incredibly quick-thinking actor, able to pass off his littering ways as merely an accident, saving face in front of a stranger, but I like to think better of him than that. There was absolutely no trace of embarrassment or guilt about him (as there would be for me if I had dropped litter and caught at it) and in any case, we parted ways amicably.

What if I had simply gone ahead and berated the man for dropping litter when it had actually been an accident all along? I would have been deliberately unpleasant to someone who didn’t really deserve it – a nasty experience for him and certainly no credit to me.

As it was, I was apparently able to do someone a good turn, reuniting him with something important he might have lost.

A last-minute change in attitude on my part from outright condemnation to presumption of innocence brought about a completely different outcome.

Maybe I should try this approach more often – it’s certainly easier on the old blood-pressure.

Mind you, if I ever see some kid smashing up a phone box or spraying his ‘tag’ on a statue, I’m not sure that I won’t revert to silent seething – or even tutting.

Moral cowardice – I has it.


  1. Happily your elderly gentleman didn't lose that life-saving phone number after all. You just never know.
    I am often tempted to render cigarette butts to those discarding them (like throwing them back into an open car window). But like you meerly contain my irritation.

  2. join the club - there's a whole bus load of us cowards every time some neanderthal plays his music loud with no headphones. The british are very bad at complaining - and when we do we just rant

  3. Good story, well told. It's so strange the amount of mental energy we use up imagining what confrontations will be like, when the confrontations themselves don't require a quarter of that energy. I think you did a good turn, whether he be a loser or a litterer.
    I am at the opposite end of the spectrum and one of life's challengers. It's no easier being a ranty bitch.

  4. It's a "Win, Win" approach, don't you think?

  5. I am such a coward when it comes to such things. Mainly because the few times I've dared to speak up I've either gotten the silent treatment or been wrong about what's going on. Sigh. So I do the seething & harrumphing thing instead.

  6. I must admit to remonstrating with people who litter my city, it's not nice and an utter lack of respect. Sometimes just a look is enough to shame these eejits into picking up what they dropped, plus a little more if I 'look' just that little bit angrier than I perhaps am.

  7. I'm fascinated by how many people have said they bottle up their impatience with their fellow man, rather than confront. I'm too chicken to do it, I'm always imagining a smack the mouth or a tirade of abuse I guess. Plus, I daresay Jimmy is a bit more imposing-looking than I am and Titus was in the Police, so might get away with confrontation more easily. we should challenge bad behaviour in some way though shouldn't we? It's our world too.

  8. yeh, for all my loud mouthery on the blog world, in the real world I'm a wimpy excuse of a human. I hhate confrontation of any kind. If I can avoid a situation, I will. I absolutely hate spitting though, unfortunately, the sort of people who spit are the sort of people who wouldn't think twich about smashing your face in, so all I do is make a face at them, even at that I'm ready to run away. At night though, when I'm trying to get to sleep, I'm single handedly grabbing scruffs all over the place, kicking butts, shouting... yeh... I'm the saviour of the streets...

  9. You are so lucky you do not live in my little town over Easter Weekend - or any end-of-the-month weekend for that matter. Littering is on a par with Soccer in the lives of my African brothers and sisters, it seems. They are quite passionate about it and if you confront them, they will tell you it is a job creation exercise.


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