Public Behavior

We seldom realize how our public behavior influences that of those around us. If you've learned to watch yourself, though, you can apply those same skills to watching those around you. When you're in a crowd, maybe at a sporting event, watch how the behavior of one person affects others. In such a situation, it often seems that it's poor behavior that's most noticeable, but that's enough to learn from. The behavior of one person sets a standard that allows others to act the same.

Youth soccer games (and I suppose all youth sports) can be most enlightening. Parents often behave poorly, screaming at the referee for missing calls. In some cases, parents have threatened and injured referees because of bad calls. You can watch the behavior build on itself. One parent yells, another yells louder. If the referee isn't prepared to handle such people, it can become dangerous.

If parents think through their reaction to bad calls, though, most will realize that threatening the referee is at best useless and perhaps even counterproductive. Everybody likes to have good officiating. However, most games can't be played without some sort of officiating. Referees are generally consistent, and that's usually enough. If you want evidence of their consistency, just ask someone from each side what they thought. You'll usually find that each side thought the referee made too many calls favoring the other side.

What happens when parents react strongly to missed calls? First, the parents themselves suffer – they become angry, maybe their blood pressure rises, and probably the rest of their day is ruined as they talk about the bad calls over and over. Second, the referees suffer; they typically try to do a good job, but it's never good enough for everyone. Most can somehow cope with the yelling, but the ones that I know would prefer to not be yelled at. Ultimately, the children suffer, too. How? In some cases they can be embarrassed by their parent's behavior. Additionally, they learn to blame the referee when they lose, thus reducing the possibility that they can improve their game. However, the worst thing may be that the example set by the parent becomes the norm that the child learns to emulate. Not only is their behavior intolerable when they're young, they carry the poor behavior over into adulthood. And so the suffering propagates.

What happens when parents refrain from reacting publicly to missed calls? The referee can go about the business of watching the game; the child learns to look for ways to improve their game; the parent can forget the bad calls and enjoy the rest of the day. Instead of propagating suffering, the parent helps propagate enjoyment and respect. A big difference from the small amount of self-control employed.

Each time we're in public, we have an opportunity to influence the lives of all the people around us. Do we want to increase suffering or reduce it? Watch yourself, watch others, and behave in a way that expresses your consideration of others. It may not have as obvious an effect as unpleasant and disruptive behavior, but the overall effect is to reduce the suffering of all.