Let's set a few things straight.
None of us were promised that we could make it through our lives without ever being bothered, inconvenienced or made to feel uncomfortable. When that happens — and it will — you do what grown-ups do: Put up with it, or you leave the environment that is causing you such misery and go someplace else.
Someone is going to come into your space and do something that irritates you. But the proper response isn't always a smoking ban, a profanity ban, a fast food ban, etc. Sometimes, all you need to do is speak up and ask people to be more considerate. If they refuse, don't rush out and call your city councilman or pressure an establishment to bar entire groups of people. Just tolerate it, or leave.
You'll have a better, happier and more stress-free life if you understand early on the difference between private space versus public space. In your private space, you can do what you want and ask anyone who comes into that space to do what you want as well: "Before you enter my home, please take off your shoes." But when you step into a public space, you have to give up any expectation that you'll be able to control the behavior of others to make yourself more comfortable. When you drive your car to work, you can do as you please — as long as you obey the law. But when you ride the subway, you need to learn to cope with behavior you might find irritating, such as loud talking, unruly children, etc.
This is common sense, but apparently not common enough. One person who seems to have missed his serving is Mike Vuick, the proprietor of McDain's Restaurant, a casual dining establishment in Monroeville, Pa.
Notice I didn't call it a "family restaurant." Vuick surrendered that title when he announced a ban on children under the age of 6. That's pushing the phrase "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" a bit far, isn't it?
Vuick says he decided on the new policy after receiving many complaints from customers about noisy tykes and crying babies at neighboring tables. In an email to customers, he explained the change this way: "We feel that McDain's is not a place for young children. Their volume can't be controlled and many, many times they have disturbed other customers." Vuick told a local television station that, while he personally has nothing against kids, he thinks that crying and screaming in restaurants is "the height of being impolite and selfish."
Of course, they're impolite and selfish. They're kids who haven't yet turned 6. Everyone knows that children don't magically morph into "polite" and "selfless" until they're at least 7!
Or maybe Vuick was talking about the parents of the little screamers. They probably can't control their kids, and they should try harder to do so. This much is true. But does that necessarily make the parents impolite and selfish? As for Vuick's complaint about children whose "volume can't be controlled," look, they're kids — not television sets or boom boxes.
Let's give these parents a break. They could just be overwhelmed or afraid of making a bad situation worse by coming down too hard on their kids in public. Besides, if one of your children is screaming, you aren't thinking about the people at "neighboring tables." As the father of young children, I can tell you that you're just trying to put out the fire.
People need to lighten up and stop being so desperate to control every situation. We don't live in a bubble.
Still, it's Vuick's restaurant, and he can declare it a "no kids zone" if that's what he wants to do. This is not against the law. But, make no mistake, his policy is indefensible. It discriminates against — and thus puts an unfair burden on — parents with children; after all, barring a child from a restaurant means barring the parent as well.
But the real problem with Vuick's proposed "child ban" is that it's a harmful enabler. It'll only encourage more complaining by customers at "neighboring tables." It takes everything we know about how the world won't accommodate you and turns it upside down by making a special accommodation to those who complain the loudest.
Americans have spent years worrying about whether we're pampering our children. What we should really worry about is whether we're pampering our adults.
© 2011, The Washington Post Writers Group
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