Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On the subject of boundaries and courtesy.

Read a post on Feministe today about an advice column on that questioned what to do when your seat-mate on a flight pulls out a lap-top and starts watching hard-core porn during the flight.  The letter-writer in this case was a grandmother travelling with her daughter and small grandchild.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people's response was "Oh hell, no.  Call the flight attendant on that shit," because that's a pretty blatant broach of other passengers' personal boundaries, natch.  Regardless of the age of your seatmates, I would think it's safe to say this is never cool.

If you're ever wondering if it's appropriate to watch porn on an airplane, well, unless you are chartering your own private jet, one should usually err on the side of "Porn on an airplane? What the hell is wrong with you?"

A few people asked the question 'Okay, well where do you draw the line? What if it's not porn per se, but a movie or show the occasional scene of graphic sex or violence such as Dexter (which I use as an example, because it generally has a fair amount of both and I'm not really familiar with a lot of other shows).

It's hard to draw a line in the sand, because different people have different tolerance levels and are triggered by different things - imagine if you will, having trauma-related PTSD and finding  yourself with a seatmate watching a movie with a graphic rape scenes like The Accused or Precious.

I'm not sure about everyone else, but if it were me, I'd rather go a couple hours on a plane keeping my viewing at a PG-13 level or lower, than ask someone who may be easily triggered to just get the hell over it and let me watch my movie in peace, especially when considering that in most economy flights, you're practically sitting on your seat-mate's lap.

But where to draw the line?  What can be considered acceptable and what is not?  It's virtually impossible to tell these days what one may find acceptable for public viewing and what one may not.. especially if you get kids involved.  (Again, if it's porn on a plane, just don't.)

What surprises me is how few people consider simply asking their seat mate "Hey, I was thinking of watching this movie but it's kind of graphic in parts.  Would it bother you if I watched it?"  Worst case scenario,  seat-mate might actually say "Actually I'd really appreciate if you didn't."  Or they may say it's okay but decide since you have spoken to them that they want to be your bestie now and chat you up when all you want to do is watch your movie.

In the name of courtesy though, I'd be willing to take that risk.

As a society we seem to be developing a phobia of actually talking to people and creating dialogue.  We'd rather draw hard and fast lines of etiquette in the sand than actually reaching out to each other and creating dialogues around personal boundaries.  Respecting one's boundaries is a way of being empathetic.. to say "Hey, I get it, you're not cool with this and I respect that."

Another post having to do with boundaries I found interesting was in regards to not forcing children to hug and kiss relatives and friends at Christmastime or other gatherings.  We've all known a kid that doesn't like to hug or be hugged, and it's common for such a child to be admonished for being rude to not accept hugs and kisses from family members.  However, in trying to prevent abuse it is important to teach a child that their body is their own and that no one is allowed to touch it without permission.  So I think it would stand to reason that it might be confusing to a child to encourage bodily autonomy while simultaneously say 'but you still have to kiss Grandma'.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think rudeness is acceptable and if my kid refused to hug or kiss someone, I'd let them know that they still have to say hello or thank you or the appropriate acknowledgement.. but if they don't want to be hugged, that's okay.  Some people are very uncomfortable being touched.. whether it is tied into psychological issue or a physical issue - some are very sensitive to touch and it can be over-stimulating.

Respecting a kids boundaries also teaches them to understand and respect the boundaries of others.  Paying attention and respecting a child's boundaries can also help a parent be aware of issues.  My oldest daughter, as a toddler/preschooler was ridiculously affectionate.. WITH EVERYBODY.  She even wanted hugs from strangers.. anyone who made eye contact with her, pretty much.

I remember her running up to an elderly lady pushing a walker and exclaiming 'Up! up!'.  Another time in a bank, she ran up to a young boy who was probably no older than eleven or twelve and threw her little arms around his legs.  This poor kid looked like he was going to die of embarassment on the spot.

Being such an affectionate little thing, I paid attention when she didn't want someone to hug her.

There was a time when the ex-hub and now-wife had some company over including one or two people they didn't know.  My usually exuberantly affectionate preschooler refused to give this one guy the time of day. Instead of vying to have attention lavished on her, she quietly guided her sisters into another room, away from the company.  I don't know the details, but this one guest ended up later saying things to now-wife that had crossed a few of her boundaries and left her quite upset.  I have little doubt that T. picked up some kind of vibe from this guy.

I think small kids can have the ability to read adults better than we can of each other, because they have not yet been socialized into prejudices about different people, and may be able to better follow their instincts when it comes to getting 'bad vibes' from someone.

Just like we should listen to those around us in order to show courtesy and respect boundaries, with kids while there are times to teach, there are also times to listen.

Sorry.  Couldn't Resist.


  1. Common courtesy, much like common sense, has become increasingly uncommon. You usually won't find those of our generation (I think I just aged 10 years by typing that) and older usually have the manners and whatnot to NOT make those around them uncomfortable (unless they're assholes, but that's a whole different thing), and to be aware of their surroundings. Nowadays, though, courtesy is out the window, and most people don't seem to give a fuck.

  2. Boundaries are SO important to teach people, child or adult. Being courteous of others is a virtue that makes people not assholes. And I agree with your assessment of children being better able to read adults. Probably because they can read through b.s. faster than we can.

  3. I think this post Isvery accurate when it talks about common courtesy and the lack of dialogue. I see it often in the restaurant I work at.. People are not so easy to converse with an often feel uncomfortable having conversations with "strangers"- I fear the repercussions of this behavior in the long run.

    I do also agree that children seem to have a sixth sense.. They really can pick up things that adults seem to miss!

  4. Either I had the world's greatest parents or everyone else was raised by wolves. I would never think of reaing, watching, saying. acting, or pantomiming something offensive in public.

    People tell me my children are angels in public or when they're at otehr people's houses. I want to say "oh yeah, well let me tell you how they are at home" then I realize, wait, I don;t suck at parenting.

    wow at someone watching teh pron on a plane

  5. I'm 40, and I still don't want to have to kiss anyone at Christmas besides my wife and children. How do I tell my in laws that I don't want their runny nosed 3 year old giving me a sticky, slimy germ filled kiss without hurting their feelings?

    I don't. I just have another glass of wine, and bring along hand sanitizer. Lots of hand sanitizer.

    Also? I travel for work WAY too much, and I just. can't. fathom. pron. on. a. plane.

    As evil ninja said, when did common sense become so uncommon?

  6. I never considered the boundaries and right to owning their own bodies for children, in light of boundaries. It's so very true - what mixed messages we send to them when we force a hug. I will never be so pushy again with my nephew. I feel badly now, but enlightened.

    Also, I know some airlines put a disclaimer before movies saying "please be aware of those around you and kindly avoid offensive programming in front of children". Something to that affect. Not sure if it was Delta or Virgin?

    But yeah, most people don't pay attention.

    And I have had the displeasure of being a trauma PTSD sufferer and accidentally looking up at a seat-mate's screen to see something awful. Almost had to use the barf bag once. So now I try my damndest to stare forward only, or window only.

  7. Love the points you bring up here, especially about how to teach kids to respect their bodies, to own their bodies. Good thing to remember right before we go to visit tons of family this weekend!

    Porn on a plane? WTF?

  8. I'm always amazed at how many people are frightened of other people. We've allowed this to happen through TV, movies, etc, as in look out! something horrible is lurking over there!

    That said, I don't want to be seated next to someone watching porn. Sexual titillation and seats just wide enough to accommodate the majority of your butt/thighs are no compatible. They can save their jollies for later.


  9. I'm all for inappropriateness, but the porn on the airplane thing is more along the lines of something diagnosable I think. Intelligent, funny, and thoughtful post. The thing about fear of creating dialogue rings very true for me. In a world with so much "social media" we seem to be getting less and less social. I think these websites and device makers are selling solitude for the most part.

  10. Hi Elliott, Welcome! Thanks for your feedback.


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