Two unstoppable forces, or two immovable positions?
February 4, 2020 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Help me settle a disagreement. Who is more rude, someone walking headlong with their face in their phone (unknowingly), or someone walking headstrong directly in their path (knowingly)?

It seems a friend and I are, ironically, at an impasse. I've seen reasonable answers here to dilemmas like this before, so I told my friend I'd proffer it here. Assume a neutral public space: an office hallway, an non-busy sidewalk, park walkway, etc. TIA
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra to Society & Culture (67 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
intentionality is a pretty universal concept in common law (I'm not saying this is a legal issue, just taking it as a data point.) Applied here, the person intentionally causing a collision is more rude.

(I personally have never quite agreed with this concept. I've always felt the concept of reckless endangerment is more universally relevant to the human condition. In the above scenario I feel like while the intentional-bumper is more rude, the phone person is asking for it, so I'd award a couple righteousness points to the intentional bumper.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:53 AM on February 4, 2020 [9 favorites]


Not sure how one can walk with their face in their phone unknowingly.

Neither is in a position of high moral ground, but the distracted walker I would consider to be the greater offense.
posted by wile e at 8:53 AM on February 4, 2020 [8 favorites]


Both, roughly equally, for different reasons. It's rude to not be paying attention to your surroundings when you're physically proximate to other humans, but it's also rude to teach a person being obliviously rude a "lesson" by walking into them on purpose to catch them out and demonstrate that they're being rude.
posted by terretu at 8:54 AM on February 4, 2020 [10 favorites]


I am old, so my feeling is that both are very rude. Focusing on your phone while walking in an area where others are trying to walk is assuming a ridiculous amount of privilege (all will part before me as my Insta-browsing is more important than the real world). However, in the moment, someone who sees the idiot with their nose buried in their phone and deliberately runs into them is not just rude, but committing assault. Walking should not be a full contact sport.
posted by agatha_magatha at 8:55 AM on February 4, 2020 [11 favorites]


Person walking with their face in their phone is forcing others around them to take responsibility for their navigation and safety.

Person in their path is refusing to accept.

The first one is more rude.
posted by Zudz at 8:56 AM on February 4, 2020 [7 favorites]


is the headstrong person just keeping their path and letting the other person walk into them? Or moving intentionally into the other person’s path to make a point? I read your question as the latter but it probably makes sense that it’s the former.

I was going to say the headstrong person is definitely more rude because they are being intentionally rude. However I sometimes will not move out of my reasonable path on the right side of the hallway when people are walking into me unknowingly and I think that’s ok.

But I’m also a small woman and constantly not seen or noticed by tall dudes taking up all the space in the hallway, especially at my male-dominated place of work, and I think that also has some different nuance. I also usually will just stop and let them walk into me as opposed to us both walking into each other.
posted by sillysally at 8:57 AM on February 4, 2020 [26 favorites]


IANAL, but as I understand it, tort law requires a minimal duty of care toward other people: that is, not to deliberately cause harm to others even if, technically speaking, you are in the right. For example, a driver has a responsibility to look out for other road users who may violate traffic rules and to attempt to avoid colliding with them if it's possible to do reasonably and without undue risk of harm to self or others. E.g., if a drunk person steps out into the middle of the road and trips, a driver has to try to avoid running them over if it's at all possible without colliding with others or with lampposts, rolling the car, etc.

I think the analogy applies here. The person walking while staring into the cell phone is being rude in a self-absorbed way, while the person who deliberately walks into the other is being rude in a self-righteous way.

Tl;dr: cell phone guy is an idiot. The other person is an asshole.
posted by brianogilvie at 9:00 AM on February 4, 2020 [46 favorites]


cell phone guy is an idiot. The other person is an asshole.

I'd put it more like "cell phone guy is an uncaring asshole and the other person is calculatingly evil" but I strongly second brianogilvie's analysis.
posted by MiraK at 9:03 AM on February 4, 2020 [16 favorites]


Both are rude. The phone person is selfishly requiring everyone else to route around them, and the knowing collider wants to physically vent their frustration in a semi-"road rage" kind of scenario. Between the two, I'd say selfish is less scary than rage-y, so if pressed I'd have to say the collider is more out of bounds. But public spaces can only work if people collectively agree to act better than both of them. If every single person ambulated around in the same fashion, it would be pedestrian zombie road warrior hell to go anywhere. If you are relying on other people to uphold the social agreement so that things aren't total chaos, you (nonspecific "you") are the rude, and probably dangerous, one, in any instance.
posted by taz at 9:04 AM on February 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


Just curious, is the person who thinks the headstrong person isn’t rude from New England? Because intentionally walking into someone seems to be accepted and quite common here. Walking like a headhunting linebacker doesn’t seem to trigger rudeness alarms. When I lived in Ohio, I would have said the headstrong person was rude, because what kind of sociopath intentionally walks into someone else?* I think your disagreement may be based in regional differences.

*New Englanders, apparently.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:04 AM on February 4, 2020 [12 favorites]


I am not sure that there is a ruder person here. Both rude for different reasons. If you are looking for a vote, hello Iowa, I vote for the person with the phone. They sound chronicly rude while the other person sounds one time situational rude.
posted by AugustWest at 9:04 AM on February 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


I think it all depends if the headstrong walker is in their socially acceptable lane (on the right in the US) and the headlong phone zombie is veering into the headstrong walker's walking space.

If headstrong walker is in their socially acceptable walking space, then it is all on the phone zombie for being a rude asshole.

*I apply this on the hiking trails. On wide trails, I will stay to the right but when a huge group of people is walking towards me hogging the whole fucking trail you better believe the one walking in my socially defined walking space is going to come face to face with me because I. AM. THAT. IMMOVABLE. OBJECT.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 9:11 AM on February 4, 2020 [20 favorites]


I'm a small and obviously queer woman. I've had men deliberately walk at me as a dominance display, to make me move. People with phones are occasionally caught up in whatever they're doing, but they're not doing it as a shitty power move. The deliberate "I'm going to walk where you are so move" person is way, way more rude.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:12 AM on February 4, 2020 [43 favorites]


If the person really is unaware they've become temporarily distracted (which is the premise of the post and I think people need to stick to what's written and not what they're reading into it), the latter person is by far more of an ass. A person who sees rudeness in the world and decides not only to add more rudeness, but also that his own specific rudeness is somehow justified is just a crap person.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:13 AM on February 4, 2020 [22 favorites]


I am completely baffled that so many people think the cellphone guy is ruder than the person who intentionally collides with a stranger in the street. One of them is thoughtless, the other is an absolute monster. (from the UK, maybe this is a cultural thing)
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 9:13 AM on February 4, 2020 [44 favorites]


The person walking while staring into a smartphone without looking out for others is certainly being rude to those in the vicinity. But someone who refuses to move to the side and walks directly into such a person despite being aware of that person and that person's lack of awareness is being far more rude.

Intention makes a huge difference. For example, walking by someone's outstretched hand because you didn't take the care to notice it can be rude, but looking directly at someone's outstretched hand, noticing it and deliberately not shaking it is rude enough to be considered an intentional insult.

It's like people who loudly say, "You're welcome!" to someone they think was rude for not thanking them for some polite gesture, without realizing that the pointed rebuke is actually more rude.
posted by slkinsey at 9:18 AM on February 4, 2020 [3 favorites]


I'm a New Englander and I find them both rude and irresponsible.
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:28 AM on February 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


This is such a great question. My answer won't do much other than to provide a datapoint outside the norm, but oh well.

I'm a blind person, but I have residual vision. I live in a crowded major urban center. It is encumbent on other people to maintain travel awareness of their surroundings because if they do not, they can be a real danger to me. I will veer at the last second if I see someone obliviously navigating into my path, but my attitude is generally fuck 'em. Pay attention. I don't care if it's rude because their inattentiveness can cause real danger to me as I travel. Cell phone person is the rude one. You owe the world you live in your attention both for your own safety and that of the rest of the world you inhabit. I think of this as a minimum ask from someone who takes part in a society.

I rarely if ever actually collide with people, and I think most folks will make an exception for me in this hypothetical situation, but I make no such exception. People are people and responsible behavior is responsible behavior.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 9:30 AM on February 4, 2020 [10 favorites]


The first one is being rude. The second one is trying to punish the first one's rudeness with rudeness of their own. I think a lot of the disagreement here is about whether it's okay to be rude as punishment — whether rudeness can be a righteous response to someone else who did it first.

I'm a turn-the-other-cheek person, for bigger sins but also for rudeness. I think they're both rude, and the first one's rudeness doesn't excuse the second one's.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:32 AM on February 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


The first person is somewhere between careless and thoughtless (we don't know where; who hasn't occasionally walked while on the phone, even those of us who are pretty careful not to). The second person is angry and aggressive. They're both rude, but the second one is throwing a red flag for being potentially scary--that person is a bigger social/interpersonal threat.
posted by gideonfrog at 9:37 AM on February 4, 2020 [13 favorites]


From New England (where, in 15 years living here, I have not noticed particularly rude behavior on sidewalks... or grumpiness/standoffishness actually, to challenge another stereotype):

Cellphone user is rude and uncaring and we all hate to have to navigate around them; headstrong person is a complete asshole and what the hell is he/she thinking? Geez.
posted by lydhre at 9:44 AM on February 4, 2020 [3 favorites]


It depends if the person knowingly walking into [oblivious phone user] can safely avoid them.

I use a power wheelchair, and I can't abruptly get out of someone's way - especially in a busy pedestrian mall - so I've taken to holding an open, blunt [no sharp bits] golf umbrella over my head so that oblivious phone users bounce gently off the edges of my umbrella rather than colliding with me, which would injure me, them, and damage my wheelchair.

You would be AMAZED how many people bounce off my golf umbrella from behind me, the side of me, in front of me. People just don't look where they're going.

But colliding with someone ON PURPOSE when you could safely get out of the phone users way without injuring or endangering yourself/someone else - is not okay.
posted by Murderbot at 9:50 AM on February 4, 2020 [8 favorites]


I agree with others who have commented that the headstrong person's path matters:

- If they have left their socially-accepted path with the sole purpose of running into the phone person, then they are incredibly rude, not to mention aggressive/scary.

- If they are keeping to their socially-accepted path and simply not jumping out of the way to avoid phone person, then I think they are neutral. Jumping aside would be polite, but the absence of politeness can be neutrality, not rudeness, at least in some cases.

In either scenario, the phone person is being rude.
posted by shb at 9:53 AM on February 4, 2020 [11 favorites]


The more I'm reading the answers, the more I think I need clarity.

Is this question asking which one is wrong in the abstract if they're each headed toward you, or is that if the two people are heading toward each other and collide / just miss each other, which one was at fault / more rude?

Because if this is two people heading toward one another and the rude person is on their phone and the other person says fuck that and slams into that person (or nearly does so) in some weird game of chicken, then I think they're both rude and deserve to clothesline one another. But IMO the person who decides that this is vigilante-justice payback for the other person choosing to not be aware is worse.

YMMV, Hell is other people.
posted by Mchelly at 9:56 AM on February 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


In tort law, this is sometimes referred to a “inattentive peril” versus the “last clear chance” in contributory negligence jurisdictions. IMO, if you can prevent an accident, even of other’s making, you should.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:56 AM on February 4, 2020 [10 favorites]


Obnoxious is worse than oblivious, no question.
posted by plonkee at 9:57 AM on February 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure about what the 'walking directly into their path' entails here.

When you walk looking at your phone, you accept responsibility for all damage or trouble your careless behavior causes.

If the non-cell phone person is walking somewhere they have a right to be walking, then they're not at fault at all, because they have the right to assume that other pedestrians are paying attention. If they, I don't know, swerve into the cell phone person's path for no reason or otherwise ignore traffic restrictions, then they bear some fault, too. Rudeness is not OK in response to rudeness, especially if the rudeness could predictably result in physical injury!

Basically, if you don't have the basic discretion and common sense to restrict your phone-while-walking to safe areas, you suck and you take the consequences of your suckiness. However, this doesn't mean people should deliberately go out of their way to crash into you.
posted by praemunire at 9:58 AM on February 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


You could analogize this to how US criminal law treats states of mind: the phone-watcher is being reckless. We can assume the average person knows that walking on a public sidewalk while looking at your phone could result in a collision or inconvenience other walkers. BUT the intent walker is knowingly causing a collision with another person—knowingly bringing (likely minor) harm to another. The intent walker is ruder.

The difference is that many people answering this question are swayed by the fact that they think the phone-watcher deserves a lesson for also being rude (just less rude). There’s a flavor of frontier justice about this question—what the phone-watcher deserves. But manners isn’t about that. It’s about treating all people with courtesy.
posted by sallybrown at 9:59 AM on February 4, 2020 [6 favorites]


Seems to me that this question becomes easier to think about if we use car drivers rather than pedestrians.

As a driver I have a fundamental responsibility to avoid colliding with other cars to the best of my ability. Failure of some other driver to exercise their own responsibility in this regard does not absolve me of mine. This is the principle behind the idea that "right of way" is not a thing that's implied by obligations to yield as codified in the road rules applying to intersections.

It follows that deliberately ramming another driver who fails to yield when required to, perhaps because they're distracted by visibly illegal use of a phone while driving, is not a remedy but a further offence and one for which there can't be even a faintly legitimate excuse.

The deliberate, wilful, intentional causing of a collision strikes me as clearly worse than deliberate, wilful, reckless self-impairment. The latter merely risks collision while the former actually guarantees it.
posted by flabdablet at 10:09 AM on February 4, 2020 [11 favorites]


BUT the intent walker is knowingly causing a collision with another person—knowingly bringing (likely minor) harm to another.

I think something that's gotten a little obscured, perhaps because many people here don't really do much walking, is that it's not particularly easy to be sure whether an apparently distracted person really doesn't see you at all, and thus whether they're going to swerve to avoid a collision. Especially if the two aren't walking more or less straight at each other. In NYC, if you assumed that everybody whose path might intersect yours will, you would actually be unable to maneuver on crowded city sidewalks. Your path on the street is an endless series of potential collisions and near-collisions. You have to generally assume that people are paying minimal attention to where they're going.

If someone's "friend" is constantly getting clipped because they have their head down on their phone, it's less likely that people are deliberately crashing into them and more likely that people are assuming they're adhering to normal traffic conventions and proceeding accordingly. This is not a controversial concept with car traffic.
posted by praemunire at 10:10 AM on February 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


The first person is a momentary asshole, the second person is an asshole by nature.

I live in New York. Somedays you are in the flow and shit is wild and you are running between things and you are on your phone or you are adjusting your jacket and you look up and realize you're walking into people or you are standing in the way of a bunch of people. Somedays, you're the asshole, for a moment. Tomorrow? Tomorrow you'll get angry at whoever is the asshole to you that day, for a moment. We all take turns.

But if you're out in these streets intentionally breaking the social contract to fuck with people? You just ARE an asshole.

Some folks here think person who fails to caretake the people around is a bigger ass then the person who intentionally does harm and I am sort of baffled. It feels like there's maybe a divide here between ask/guess culture? Or a similar spectrum. Also feels similar to people who are like "well I disagree with everything about him but I admire his conviction." What's that about?
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:11 AM on February 4, 2020 [18 favorites]


It follows that deliberately ramming another driver who fails to yield when required to, perhaps because they're distracted by visibly illegal use of a phone while driving, is not a remedy but a further offence and one for which there can't be even a faintly legitimate excuse.

Yes, but if the collision results because you started forward on the assumption that the other driver was yielding as they were supposed to, that's the other driver's fault, not yours.
posted by praemunire at 10:13 AM on February 4, 2020


As a witness, what kind of response do you think would be normal? My responses would be:

To self-absorbed person who ran into someone because they weren't taking normal precautions to avoid accidents: "Hey, that's not cool, you need to be careful, someone could get hurt and you're making other people take responsibility for your actions!"

To person who intentionally kept on walking into that person: "Hey, WTF is wrong with you!?!?! Did you seriously just run into that person? What is going on inside your head where you think that would be appropriate?" Then privately to myself "Jesus, there is no telling what kind of crazy escalation this guy [let's be real, it's definitely a guy] is capable of, I hope he doesn't own guns, I really need to avoid him if possible."
posted by skewed at 10:14 AM on February 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


(I should also add that it's not even necessarily easy to tell that another pedestrian is distracted if they're not directly in your line of view--if someone's coming in at a thirty-degree angle to me, I'm unlikely to be seeing whether they're looking at their phone.)
posted by praemunire at 10:17 AM on February 4, 2020


that's the other driver's fault, not yours

You might want to look into the concept of comparative negligence. In practice, if the front of your car strikes another vehicle for any reason, you're very unlikely to recover the full cost of repairs.
posted by flabdablet at 10:22 AM on February 4, 2020


Some folks here think person who fails to caretake the people around is a bigger ass then the person who intentionally does harm and I am sort of baffled.

Enough people have been inconvenienced by a phone-watcher to have a permanent annoyance of them as a Rude Person. Lots of people feel (consciously or subconsciously) that rude people can be taught out of their bad manners by consequences. This feeling is doubled when the rudeness in question is due to inattentiveness that makes the person inconvenienced feel like they are being ignored or treated as invisible. So your gut wants you to say “HEY! JERK! WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING! You are not the only human on this planet! I am a person too!!” You think it might feel good to see one of these Rude People to get hip checked like a hockey player.

But manners would say, that is not your lesson to teach them. Let their bad practices resolve themselves (perhaps they will bump into a light pole or another phone-watcher). Manners is not about what other people deserve, but the kind of person you want to be—the care you choose to show other people. And I’ll admit - I roll my eyes when I pass a phone-watcher, but if during my daily walk, someone texts me terrible news about being diagnosed with an illness or the like, I momentarily become the phone watcher, reading in shock before my brain kicks in and tells me to stop and move out of the way.
posted by sallybrown at 10:23 AM on February 4, 2020 [7 favorites]


FWIW as a New Yorker I will definitely intentionally brush up against people I see being oblivious in public, in an attempt to get them to notice that they are a person in public, that they live in a society. You're standing in the middle of the sidewalk with your friends outside a restaurant? I'm walking through your group. Not trying to create a collision or harm, just an awareness. Fully running into those folks, tho, is real asshole behavior.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:30 AM on February 4, 2020 [8 favorites]


I roll my eyes when I pass a phone-watcher

Keep those eyes on the road and the traffic, please :-)
posted by flabdablet at 10:34 AM on February 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


I yell "WATCH IT!" to cell phone walkers (and here in NYC it's more often cell phone RUSHERS). of course this isn't much help if they're also wearing earbuds, which so far I've restrained myself from yanking out.
posted by brujita at 10:48 AM on February 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


Oh, an etiquette question on AskMe! This will be easy to resolve. 🍿

From the 100% legit ethical school of “could I imagine being that person?” I tend to say the deliberate collider is more rude. I’m a woman, and my sense is that (at least in my workplace, which is the place I’m most conscious of possible collisions) men on foot are generally assumed to have right of way. It would take an effort for me to go against this training. But screwing up from inattention, I can see myself doing that (and then apologizing, and then realizing I’ve just apologized to a post).
posted by eirias at 10:51 AM on February 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


The real question is "what kind of rudeness is more offensive."

They're both being rude because the result of their action is the same - someone has been run into. The "degree of rudeness" also depends on the person on the receiving end of that action. I tend to feel accidental rudeness is less offensive than deliberate rudeness, because intent matters to me. My husband is the opposite, rudeness caused by lack of awareness is more offensive to him.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I am more apt to be inattentive and he is more apt to be intentionally rude, so it excuses our own faults rather than making us confront the fact that the initial consequence, rather than the intent (or lack of it) causing that action, is equally rude because it's the same.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:12 AM on February 4, 2020 [3 favorites]


oh, interesting point above re the phone person causing a problem for everyone on the sidewalk, whereas the "righteous" intentional-bumper is targeting just one annoying person. One could argue that the collective annoyance caused by the careless phone idiot is greater than the single targeted harm caused by the dickish intentional bumper. Might depend on how many people are on the sidewalk!

Might also depend if dickish intentional bumper bumps the phone idiot lightly or, like, pushes them down a cellar hatch opening.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:14 AM on February 4, 2020


who was worse? Hitler or Stalin?

actually, that's a terrible analogy. Except it does speak to the notion that arguing about who was more wrong about something can become a bottomless pit of pointlessness. My guess is that if something like this ever went to traffic court, the judge would find each individual wrong by some percentage. So even if you ended up being only 25-percent wrong, you were still wrong, so suck it up, pilgrim, own your part of the avoidable collision.

For the record, I did once stand in front of a younger person who was crossing a street whilst texting and thus NOT looking where they were going. But I didn't let them walk into me. I said, "Excuse me," at the last second. To which they said a sort of shocked "sorry" ... and life carried on.

This happened in Canada, so it's perhaps not that relevant here.
posted by philip-random at 11:28 AM on February 4, 2020 [3 favorites]


Absolutely the second. The first is an oblivious fool, the second a premeditated offender.
posted by rodlymight at 11:47 AM on February 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


This is the most fun AskMe in a while :) We all get to play!

(and I still thoroughly agree with myself, good day)
posted by MiraK at 11:53 AM on February 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


oh, interesting point above re the phone person causing a problem for everyone on the sidewalk, whereas the "righteous" intentional-bumper is targeting just one annoying person.

This kinda makes the ask into a modified trolley problem, but instead of action/ inaction, it's severity of harm. On one track there is a single person who would be stricken and killed, on the other is a group who would only lose a limb.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:10 PM on February 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


Are the two people colliding with each other or other people?
posted by winna at 12:20 PM on February 4, 2020


A lot of answers here are envisioning scenarios outside the scope of your question, which seems limited to just the two people meeting head-on with nobody else around.

But even within the limits you set out, the headstrong person is, without a doubt, behaving worse than the heedless person.

Yes the heedless person is very rude and acting badly. They're culpable in creating a physical hazard. Their behavior is not right and they should stop it now. But the headstrong person intentionally walking into somebody else is sociopathic, no matter how good it may feel to imagine they're teaching a lesson, or whatever the headstrong person's reasoning may be.

The law for a given locale may not align perfectly with this ethical view.
posted by theory at 12:27 PM on February 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


They're both being rude because the result of their action is the same - someone has been run into.

No. Someone running into me accidentally is not as rude as someone who runs into me on purpose. The former is annoying but usually just apologizes and goes on with their day. The latter can be dangerous, can be the precursor to an assault, or harassment - they're not apologizing, they think they own public spaces and have the right to make decisions about my presence there.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:34 PM on February 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


I can't say what's in the mind of the distracted person; perhaps they are so intent on their phone because they are in the middle of an important conversation for instance. Yeah, it's not great that they're distracted, but I can understand that sometimes there's a reason people are distracted and it's not always because they're thoughtless or intentionally rude. How would you feel if you had a very good reason to be distracted and some yahoo ran into you hoping to teach you a lesson?

The guy running into the distracted person though, they know what they're doing, and they have the opportunity to avoid running into the distracted person, who will almost certainly not appreciate the correction. If the intent is to use a punishment to get them to pay attention, then I suspect it'll backfire. It might feel good in the moment, but all you've done is increased the amount of suckiness in the world by a small amount.
posted by Aleyn at 12:58 PM on February 4, 2020 [5 favorites]


One perspective on this is delivered in this article: How to play Patriarchy Chicken: why I refuse to move out of the way for men.

In the question as asked, yes, of course it's an arsehole move to walk into the path of someone using a phone.

And if you're on a sufficiently quiet and wide pavement that you can detour out of that person's way without a sharp deviation of path, and you don't, then that's fairly arseholey.

But the normal case, when someone's on their phone and you have to break step and maybe walk down off the kerb to get out of their way? I don't think you should walk into them, but you certainly shouldn't give them the personal space that normal passers-by deserve.

So if it's a situation where I'd have to turn my torso in order to fit by at all, I definitely go for the stop still and wait for them to take evasive action technique. I don't know how often it happens, not more than a few times a year. I've never been walked into when I've stopped for someone on a phone. For oblivious bunches of manspready men, though, that's definitely happened (I'm a(n IMHO) non-manspready man).
posted by ambrosen at 1:02 PM on February 4, 2020 [6 favorites]


A lot of people are assuming that there is a collision, but that's not actually a part of the scenario as described. There's two people walking; person A is aware that they are on a collision course, person B is not aware of that fact through their own negligence, and person A is aware of person B's lack of awareness. Person B is mildly rude, is basically what we know.

This is actually a very common walking scenario and a perfectly reasonable action as person A is to stay the course, which is to say *knowingly remain on a collision course*, and assume that as the distance closes that the negligent person will become aware. When both people are aware, the collision will become easier to avoid, because an appropriate safe course change can be negotiated with body language.

Person A has a broad array of responses available, some of which are elegant or rude or sociopathic. But at the point of the scenario, person A is walking in a normal way, presented with the dilemma of what to do about person B, a rude person.
posted by Kwine at 1:06 PM on February 4, 2020 [12 favorites]


"Person A has a broad array of responses available, some of which are elegant or rude or sociopathic. But at the point of the scenario, person A is walking
in a normal way, presented with the dilemma of what to do about person B, a rude person."

Exactly this. If I could favorite it a billion times, I would. The presumption that person A will be violent or sociopathic is kind of ridiculous to me. There's a difference between last-minute veering, shoulder clipping someone, exclaiming at them, or full-on ramming them without quarter. This is a question of who bears the burden of responsibility and I'm sticking it on person B every....single.....time.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 1:32 PM on February 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


You might want to look into the concept of comparative negligence.

I'll be sure to bring that up with my old torts prof, thanks.

Especially in a room of mostly non-lawyers, I don't think it's too helpful to try to make a legal determination (torts is actually an area of law where state law can vary wildly), as the question is really a one of manners or of morals. If the law said it was cool for the aware person to punch the cell-phone doofus right in the face, I'd still not consider that to be moral or mannerly.
posted by praemunire at 1:40 PM on February 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


a perfectly reasonable action as person A is to stay the course, which is to say *knowingly remain on a collision course*

Why is that reasonable? Are you just so used to having people get out of your way that you feel entitled to demand it? Reasonable is not causing more chaos. The person on their phone isn't going to go "oh wow, I'm never going to walk down the street on my phone again, clearly this person has imparted an important life lesson to me!" they're going to go, "wow, I look at my phone for two seconds and some asshole who probably also gets distracted occasionally just slammed into me for no reason!"
posted by bile and syntax at 2:14 PM on February 4, 2020 [7 favorites]


Just stop and stand still.
See if they still walk into you. Then it's all on them.
posted by dustpuppy at 2:25 PM on February 4, 2020 [6 favorites]


Why is that reasonable? Are you just so used to having people get out of your way that you feel entitled to demand it?

OK, so I just walked a few blocks to get something to drink, and since I was following this conversation, I was paying more conscious attention: I was on a collision course with a stranger approximately 58% of the time. I didn't crash into anyone because between the two of us, we were always sufficiently alert to resolve the situation, but often only in the very last couple of moments before making contact. If I had started swerving abruptly and early, I might well have crashed into someone else who wasn't expecting my abrupt change in course. This is just what busy city streets are like. People moving in traffic rely on others to follow the conventions on foot just as much as in cars.

I find it weird that this is all being framed as unintentional harm and lack of caretaking. It's not like dumping a tsunami of sulfuric acid down Park Avenue at rush hour or anything, but, boiled down to the essence, if you choose to look at your phone while you're walking amongst people, you are deliberately creating a (modestly!) hazardous situation with indifference to the harm you might cause to the people involuntarily within your reach. In terms of responsibility, it's a drastically-scaled-down version of downing a fifth of vodka and hopping in your car to drive home--no one would say there that a crash was unintentional harm or that DUI is just insufficient caretaking of other people on the road. Obviously, I don't think it's beyond the moral pale (or anywhere near the moral gravity of DUI), I absolutely have done it within the past month at least, but if I ever crash into anyone, it's definitely on me, unless they straight-up rammed into me on purpose. Under most circumstances, you have to take responsibility for the natural and predictable direct consequences of your voluntary actions. It's kind of a Schroedinger's Jerk situation.
posted by praemunire at 2:43 PM on February 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


a perfectly reasonable action as person A is to stay the course, which is to say *knowingly remain on a collision course*

Why is that reasonable?


Well, what is the best alternative? If you alter your trajectory, you still run the risk of them running into you--it's happened to me more than once. Even if you stop, they might run into you, as dustpuppy points out, and even if they don't then you've created your own oblivious problem for anyone behind you. The only guaranteed safe thing to do is to keep paying attention until you get their attention, at which time you can mutually negotiate safe passage. Until you have that, you might as well keep doing what you're doing, which is walking in a predictable straight line.

I guess *I'm* assuming that this is a head-on situation along a parallel line, which is maybe implicit but not explicit in the question. The less parallel the paths are, the less effort it is to avoid the mildly rude person, because you have the additional dimension of your speed that you can control to definitively avoid a collision.
posted by Kwine at 2:47 PM on February 4, 2020


Some answers are bringing up the complexity of walking on very crowded sidewalks, but the question specifies a situation like a non-busy street:

Assume a neutral public space: an office hallway, an non-busy sidewalk, park walkway, etc.

I think headstrong walker is by far the more rude one.
posted by aka burlap at 3:24 PM on February 4, 2020 [3 favorites]


I was on a collision course with a stranger approximately 58% of the time. I didn't crash into anyone because between the two of us, we were always sufficiently alert to resolve the situation, but often only in the very last couple of moments before making contact. If I had started swerving abruptly and early, I might well have crashed into someone else who wasn't expecting my abrupt change in course.

Fun fact from walking New York City streets for a few decades: If you make eye contact with someone walking toward you the other way, you will invariably end up in that embarrassing mirroring side-step thing where no one can pass each other. If you never make eye contact, the pass is always smooth. Assuming neither of you are cluelessly staring into your phones, anyhow.
posted by Mchelly at 3:35 PM on February 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


When driving, I will generally give the right of way to just about any jerk (that is, someone driving aggressively or someone driving distractedly). But when walking? I'm a 5'3"ish woman who, if I let them, will be crashed into by men who are on their phones, distractedly talking to others, or generally expecting me to get out of their manly, manly way. And I won't do it.

If I have the right of way (that is, I'm walking on the proper (right, in the US) side of the pathway) and someone is ambling along paying no attention, I'm not going to jump out of their way. First, I have no idea if they are paying enough attention to suddenly veer at the last minute making my veering actually cause a collision. If we're just walking, I'm going to keep my hands in front of me, or my rolling bag, or my umbrella, or whatever, and I'll probably yell, "Hey!" if they're getting too close, but I'm going to protect my space, both on principle and for safety. If I jump out of their way, I'm also risking bumping into other people who might have no reason to be monitoring either one of us! I'm also at risk of rolling an ankle, getting my heels caught in a sidewalk grate or the park grass off the walk way, or of getting dirty.

Not paying attention to your surroundings because you've decided everyone else should have to take more responsibility than you do is unacceptably rude. Not putting up with being trampled upon and not having to choose to jump away to escape (again, when walking, not driving) is self-respectful. Doing it to punish the other person (as suggested above) is small-minded; doing it to preserve your own safety and dignity is not. Don't try to plow into the phone-people, do try to alert them, but don't let them continue with egregious behavior.

All this said, when other people AREN'T being rude in the first place, I am delightfully happy to circle around the other person and say, "Thanks for the dance!" which tends to make us both smile.

Phones are for when you are sitting, or when you are standing still, damnit.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 3:37 PM on February 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


Person A has a broad array of responses available, some of which are elegant or rude or sociopathic. But at the point of the scenario, person A is walking in a normal way, presented with the dilemma of what to do about person B, a rude person

That's a one-sided reading of this question that clearly isn't warranted. If we are to assume that Mx. Headstrong is simply keeping their options open rather than determined to walk into Mx. Headlong, as "headstrong" implies, then we are obligated to equally grant that Mx. Headlong is fully capable of gaining awareness of their periphery at any point before the collision, becoming "headlong" no longer.

The question we have been posed is meaningless unless there is in fact a collision brought on by Mxs. Headlong and Headstrong crashing into one another. If we are to assume there is no collision, we should be willing to grant both people the benefit of the doubt that they will avoid the collision before it happens by overcoming their initial headlong or headstrong tendency described in the question.

Also important: this is not a crowded path and Mx. Headlong knows it!

posted by MiraK at 4:17 PM on February 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


The question we have been posed is meaningless unless there is in fact a collision brought on by Mxs. Headlong and Headstrong crashing into one another. If we are to assume there is no collision, we should be willing to grant both people the benefit of the doubt that they will avoid the collision before it happens by overcoming their initial headlong or headstrong tendency described in the question.

The question is about rudeness, not sociopathy. Intentionally causing a collision is sociopathic, as many have pointed out, not merely rude. The scenario doesn't mention a collision at all and it proves too much to bring it in. The whole thread agrees that there's nothing interesting to debate if there's an intentional collision. Your reading says that one party of the debate is a sociopath, and we owe them more charity than that.

The interesting debate may be about what kinds of headstrong actions short of intentionally causing a collision might be rude, but that is getting lost in a dozen "OF COURSE RUNNING INTO SOMEONE ON PURPOSE IS RUDE". But that's not merely rude, is it? It's assault! And it's a good clue that you're bringing in something extra.
posted by Kwine at 5:24 PM on February 4, 2020


That's a very interesting reading of this thread, kwine. I have been assuming that almost everyone in the "equally rude" camp and the "Headlong is worse" camp ARE basing their judgement on a collision, i.e. they excuse what you and I consider to be sociopathy.

I wish OP would clear up this specific thing for us. Do they collide or don't they?

And while OP does that, can a few people from the "both equally rude" and the "headlong is worse" camps please chime in to say whether you based your judgements on an assumed collision or not?
posted by MiraK at 5:45 PM on February 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


I've been teaching myself not to move out of people's way.

Because this is definitely a matter of privilege: men expect women to yield, white people expect PoC to yield, the wealthy expect the poor to yield.

Just the other day in the subway at rush hour I saw a older white man in a suit with his head down, walking on the wrong side of the tunnel. Of course, he very nearly hit the guy in front of me, a young black kid in a fleece and sweatpants.

He glanced up in confusion at the last moment, as the kid twisted out of his way, then immediately looked back down at his telephone.

Reader, I tried to walk into him.

Which is to say, I held my course, and let him move aside if he chose. Which he did, at the last moment, with a startled "Whoa!" as if I weren't three feet behind the last person he nearly walked into.

As I tell this story, I realize I should have turned and looked back to see what he did with whoever was three feet behind me. I don't know, and now I'm really curious.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:27 PM on February 4, 2020 [16 favorites]


I agree the right-to-left positions of both people matters. I stand my ground in the right half of the walkway when oncoming people veer into it. I don't really want to bump into them, so I say, "Excuse me!" or clear my throat if I think they aren't going to move.
posted by soelo at 10:00 AM on February 5, 2020


I live in Tokyo, where it gets so crowded that lines on the floor designate which way to walk so people don't collide. Very often, someone (usually a man in a suit who thinks the rules don't apply to him because he's *important*) will ignore the lines and masses of people and walk completely counter to the flow of traffic, often times pretending not to notice. Here, staring at your phone while walking is a deliberate tactic meant to absolve you of any wrongdoings, which to me - as someone above pointed out - seems just as rude. Don't stare at your phone when it could mean hitting others, right? And Meaty Shoe Puppet has it just right, this is about someone who thinks I should yield to him.
It often happens that when you try to go around those guys, you walk into oncoming traffic, so you will hit someone in any case. If so, I prefer to hit the guy who is wrong over either hitting someone going the right way or myself being hit because I step around the guy and anger some other dude.

Of course, if it's some old lady looking at her phone for directions, I yield. But some asshole who thinks he's more important that a woman? Fuck him.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 3:47 PM on February 5, 2020 [5 favorites]


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