Ethics

For the week ending 18 June 2011 / 15 Sivan 5771

Misplaced Gift of Gab

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: Often on the buses I ride a gabby passenger gets on and, standing beside the driver or sitting behind him, carries on a running conversation with him, an obvious safety hazard. Although I understand this is against company rules, I am aware that lodging a written complaint will get the driver into trouble. And if I make a remark to the offending passenger, I will probably incur his/her ire. What is the right thing to do?

Answer: If you are convinced that the driver is being negligent in regard to his responsibility towards you and your fellow passengers, you definitely have a mandate to take action. The action you take, however, must be within the guidelines set by the Torah for dealing with people who have harmed you or pose a threat.

Since it is doubtful that the situation you describe is one of a clear and present danger warranting strong preemptive action on your part, it is necessary to offer the driver, the real villain in your scenario, some gentle reproof such as an innocent question as to whether the bus company rules permit carrying on conversations while driving. Only if his response is a rude rejection of your overture should you resort to the threat of reporting his misconduct to his superiors by asking him for his particulars which he is obligated to provide.

Should your hitherto gentle approach meet with continued resistance all that is left to do is to jot down the route number of the bus (and the bus serial number which usually appears somewhere inside), and the day and hour of the incident. All of this information should be included in the complaint that you write to the company in the hope that it will enforce its own rules.

While on the subject of bus drivers, it is a good idea to reward a considerate one by expressing your appreciation of the service he provided as you are about to leave the bus. A simple "thank you" makes the driver realize you relate to him as a human being and not just an extension of the steering wheel. Relating to a driver in this way will inevitably make him more sensitive to the needs of their passengers and less likely to react in negative fashion when a suggestion is made for him to stop talking and keep his mind on driving.

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