It was one of those routine bus trips back from Guwahati city to IIT campus late in the night around 13 years ago. I remember sitting at the left side rear window and noticing an elderly lady a few rows ahead. Apart from her the bus was full of students, most of whom were friends from my own class. These students were loud and unruly like young students tend to be especially when they are rounded up in close quarters and I have no doubt that I myself had at other times, participated in the sort of unruliness that I am talking about. However this time, with that extra person on board, I remember feeling a distinct sense of discomfort at the obnoxious loudmouthedness, the excessive cursing, and the general savageness of the atmosphere. I remember feeling ashamed on behalf of the person and a sense of anger at the insensitivity of my friends to my imagined discomfort of this person whom I did not even know. This emotion has since manifested itself a number of times, most recently at a concert at the Chicago symphony orchestra where I took my parents for a rendition of Mahler. A couple sitting in the row in front of mine could not keep their mouths shut for the duration of the concert. They were sitting a few columns away from me which prevented me from interrupting their interruptions. However, my rage was complete at their indecorous behavior which seemed to be ruining the experience for my parents and others who were trying to listen. However, the interesting thing about this emotion of mine, of feeling uncomfortable on behalf of others, is the fact that it might have no legitimacy at all. The old woman on that bus that night might have been perfectly fine with her surroundings and my parents and others, for all I know, might not have cared at all during the concert. It's possible, perhaps even likely, that others have thicker skins than I attribute to them. Moreover, the idea of being ashamed on behalf of others rests on a very slippery slope for it is the same impulse which tries to legitimize all sorts of censorship. People have made a hobby out of getting offended on the behalf of others. They get offended on behalf of their children, the religious, moral, and ethical sentiments of their communities, on the behalf of minorities, so on and so forth. And it is a short trip from feeling offended on the behalf of others to trying to suppress speech, behavior, and opinion uncomfortable to one. Of course people who do get all tied up in such a fashion are only more ridiculous than those whom they dislike so much.
And yet, there was something personally wrong with the couple who sat whispering in that concert and with the behavior of those students on that bus. I can, in a very private way, take issue with them but the offense must be personally owned in order for it to have any sort of meaning in my own eyes. The thread which unifies these two incidences together with the many others which I have experienced is perhaps an elitist one. I dislike unruly behavior as I see it primarily as being uncivilized (and not as being morally wrong). I prefer civilization over savagery, deliberation over red-blooded passion, and intellect over emotions. I prefer refinement over brutishness and I, therefore, prefer Tennis over American Football! So when the couple sat whispering and when my friends brought down the roof, they had, to me, incarnated as uncivilized brutes. Their behavior was something that civilization and common sense was supposed to have put a check on. The fact that it had failed to do so was and still is, in my eyes, the failings of certain people the company of whom I steadfastly try to avoid now. However, the real kicker is that I realize this as a deep personality flaw in myself, in that my leanings are so heavy. I'd have liked to strike a certain balance which one sees in a passage by Russel but it's not there yet.