Joe walks mad.
I can tell from a distance if he is upset, and I could tell in the few steps he took from door to dining room that he was really, really angry. He plopped down on the chair beside the desk and, though he normally waits to see if I'm working on something or writing an email, he started right in. "People and their Bloody cellphones,' he started, it's a rant that we've both made several times, but I knew something was different, 'I was in the line at the bank ...' he pauses and shakes his head.
'I was right behind a woman who was there supporting a young guy with Down Syndrome. She was on the phone the whole time she was in the line up. Don't people realize that they are always talking louder on the phone than they think they are, that they can be heard by everyone around them? She was gossiping with someone on the other end of the phone, I think it was probably a co-worker. All sorts of private information about the people they served was tossed out for all to hear. The man with her was really, really embarrassed listening to her. It was clear he knew that everyone else could hear. I didn't know what to do. Then when she said that she was at the bank and that she had to go soon because he needed help because he couldn't sign his name ...' here he paused to take a breath, 'I reached out and tapped her on the shoulder.'
Anyone who knows Joe, knows what a big deal this is. He is naturally reticent and almost never confronts anyone. Well, not true, he confronts me regularly. So doing this would have been very hard for him. 'I told her,' he said, 'that she was in public and we could all hear her. I told her that he could hear her. She hung up and told me that I needed to mind my own business. I wanted to tell her that it was her who needed to mind her mouth and not share his business with everyone in the line. When she said that he couldn't sign his name he looked like he wanted to die or to disappear.'
We talked this through. We decided two things. First, Joe wanted me to immediately write an email to all staff at Vita and tell them what happened and remind them that when they are in public, if they are on the phone, they are speaking publicly to everyone around them. He wanted me to try to make sure that everyone, at least at Vita, was careful. I wrote that email then and there. Joe doesn't ask these kinds of things of me often. Then he asked me to make this a blog so that everyone else would think about it too ... parents would be careful about talking about their kids publicaly on the phone, staff would be careful about sharing information out loud in public, that everyone would just be a bit more careful.
'His face will haunt me for a very long time,' Joe said. I didn't know what to do, I should have acted sooner, but I kept thinking it wasn't my responsibility - but then when I saw his face, I knew that it was.
I'm proud that Joe acted. I'm proud that he wanted me to do something to make sure that what he saw isn't repeated. Concern that becomes action is exactly what we need.
So from Joe to me, from me to you ... when you can be heard, even if only in your own heart, choose carefully the words that you say.