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Noisy neighbors and the selfishness epidemic

By Carolyn Rogers

Section: Opinions

February 10, 2017

Please, by all means, continue standing in the doorway to have a conversation with a friend. Nobody else needs to get in or out of the building five minutes before class starts. Please, leave more hair in the public showers and sinks. It’s not at all disgusting for other people to clean up. Please, invest in the most piercing alarm clock available. Only the most conscientious friends wake up their roommates with such alarms three hours before they intended to start the day.

There is a selfishness epidemic in our culture, fueled by a complete unawareness of how our behavior affects others.

Selfishness comes naturally to people, so it is unsurprising that those who live upstairs have no sense of respect to the community. They decide it is appropriate to sing along to their favorite songs at 1 a.m. They bounce a tennis ball on the floor to wile away the afternoon. They host weeknight get-togethers, and the cries of victory and defeat let everyone within a 30-foot radius know exactly who won the Mario Kart race.

One would think they would have gotten the message by now. One would think that after three visits from the Brandeis police about noise complaints, four interventions from the floor below asking them to pipe down and several texts reminding them what time the quiet hours take effect—one would think they would understand that other people can hear their racket. But alas, it is not so.

They’re not malicious people. They always respond politely and promptly to requests for quiet. They apologize, and the noise fizzles into a few hours of blessed peace—until they go back to forgetting that their downstairs neighbors have ears.

The quintessential obnoxious upstairs neighbor is but one of many examples of the selfishness that infects our culture. The general insensitivity to others’ environments permeates every aspect of social life. It’s the driver who doesn’t use a turn signal. It’s the roommate who stays up until the next morning working on a paper and keeps the lamp on while the other roommate lies awake, unable to sleep, at 2 a.m. It’s the Starbucks patron who says, “Hmm, let me think…” after spending 15 minutes in line. People lack empathy when they conduct themselves in public.

At least all the indecisive coffee drinker can do is waste a few minutes of everyone’s time. In some situations, carelessness can shift from annoying and inconvenient to negligent on a catastrophic level. In “The Great Gatsby,” Jordan Baker claims her carelessness while driving is not a problem because, “It takes two to make an accident.” This idea that we do not have to worry about the externalities of our actions, that we can be careless because everyone else is careful, is not a new phenomenon, and it wasn’t new in the 1920s either. It is fundamentally human to worry only about ourselves, but this can be dangerous.

It’s the smoker who lights up inside a building. It’s the driver who gets behind the wheel under the influence. It’s the contagious person who comes to work anyway. Carelessness that only irritates is forgivable. Carelessness that causes serious harm has no justification.

Please get out of the doorway and have that conversation somewhere else. Please use a turn signal. Please don’t smoke inside. For the sake of a cohesive community, empathy and basic human decency, please be considerate. It only takes one to make an accident.

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