Moral Dilemmas

Moral dilemma is not quite the words I want. Perhaps overheard cell phone conversations dilemmas is more apt (but a much longer title).

I try NOT to listen to the halves of the often loud cell phone  conversations going on around me. Despite the publicness of the discussion, it is still a “private” matter between two people on a phone. Just like I don’t try to hear conversations swirling around me even with all the discussionists present.

Sometimes it’s hard not to. The conversationalists’ voices are loud, the topic interesting, a game can be made of one sided cell phone conversations: what is the other person saying/responding.

Today, on the train ride home, there was a young woman sitting at the end of the sideways bench closest to the door. She was obviously upset; she was sniffling and trying to hold back a sob.

After a couple of phone calls, she sighed and “dialed” another number. After a preamble, she said “Don’t tell anyone, but I’m pregnant. I just found out. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t handle this. I just want to kill myself.” I don’t know the response (perhaps she was leaving a message?), but what I thought was her listening to the other person, was actually silence as the call had ended.

I felt like I should slide down the bench and say something. But everything I thought of would sound weird or trite coming from a stranger who had been eavesdropping. I hadn’t intended to listen – her tearful, distressed voice caught my ear.

As I stood by the door, waiting for the train to stop at my station, she was looking down, fiddling and fidgeting with stuff in her purse. I mentally sent her good thoughts that things would be okay. Trite thoughts I know. She hadn’t asked for my help; perhaps I should have given it anyway.


10 thoughts on “Moral Dilemmas

  1. sunshine and chaos March 13, 2014 / 12:49 pm

    It’s so hard, right at that moment, because you don’t know how the person would react. They are in public, with other people around them and when talking about something very emotional and personal, they don’t realize that the conversation can be heard. And there might not be anything a stranger can say or do that would help at that moment.

    I know I would feel like I’m intruding but maybe if I had a tissue or napkin on me, I’d go over and offer it to her. Say “I’m sorry, don’t mean to intrude but I can see you’re upset, would you like a tissue?”. Or “I can see your upset, is there anything you need help with right now?”. You don’t have to say you heard her side of the conversation, she would probably realize you heard if you’re sitting close enough to her. But sometimes a little act of kindness can mean a lot to someone who would probably feel very exposed at that moment.

    Never an easy situation because, thinking along the lines like Mindlovemisery, I think we’ve conditioned ourselves to look away most of the time, have headphones in our ears or put our heads down and ignore what’s happening for fear of being hurt, rebuffed, etc.

    Sending good thoughts to her as well.


    • phylor March 13, 2014 / 2:32 pm

      I agree we are conditioned not to respond, and with conversations now readily heard, it makes the situation more complicated. I find myself more often in those situations were a conversation is unintentionally overheard.
      The idea of a Kleenex is a good one; if they refuse it or look at you strangely, then you know you’re intruding. If they take the offer, perhaps then you can say something like “I hope things work out for you,” or “sorry to see that you are upset.”
      I need to recondition/uncondition myself to the fear of helping.


  2. March 13, 2014 / 11:32 am

    She made the phone call public, in a way. I probably would have tried to make eye contact and if she responded I would have tried to talk to her. If she didn’t make any eye contact like you said, she didn’t want anybody’s concern. That’s the problem with these stupid cell phones, people are so used to them they literally ignore the outside world. You tried, you did the best you could under the circumstances, probably more than most who would not have even noticed. Your good thoughts and wishes really do COUNT.


    • phylor March 13, 2014 / 2:28 pm

      Thanks. Eye contact is important — it can give clues as to approachability.
      I’m not sure I would want someone to “intrude” if I was upset, but would if I was physically hurt. So, I probably projected some of myself onto her situation.
      Since I’m a “faller,” I’m often asked if I’m okay. While I appreciate the concern, I’m also embarrassed about my lack of co-ordination, hoping they don’t think I’m drunk or high on drugs.


      • March 13, 2014 / 4:26 pm

        Clumsy comes with out illnesses, I’ve always had it. I go between wanting to be invisible and needing someone to help me up. I’ve even tripped myself and broken an ankle, over NOTHING. I figure, Phy, we just can’t win.


        • phylor March 14, 2014 / 8:15 am

          Does seem that way at times, doesn’t it.


  3. mindlovemisery March 13, 2014 / 2:14 am

    That’s a tough one but I would say if she didn’t like what you said she would probably leave maybe she’d be a little rude to you in the process but hey it seems like she’d had an overwhelming crappy day. At best though your words no matter how trite might give her hope. From what you’ve said it doesn’t like she has a good support system the kindness of a stranger can mean a lot. We’ve gotten to the point in society were spend too much time protecting our fragile egos and hearts. So you make a fool of yourself potentially could be more than worth the risk. My mom was in a bad car accident when I was a kid (she looked like Jason under the mask). She drove off a bridge and if a man hadn’t called the paramedics and helped her out of the car who knows? He helped her out because gas was leaking and the engine was going. Sam saw a woman drive her car into a river. She was trapped inside her head wasn’t underwater but she was absolutely terrified he stood with her in the freezing water. He felt like he wasn’t doing anything useful because he couldn’t “rescue” her. When rescue workers came they thanked him and told him people rarely ever do anything they just drive on and pretend the accident didn’t happen at most they call and then leave the scene. They said just being there can make a huge difference in keeping the victim calm and preventing shock.


    • phylor March 13, 2014 / 10:04 am

      Thanks for your input. I think the man who helped your mother, and Sam are heroes, rushing in to assist without thinking of the consequences to themselves.
      I have asked strangers if they are okay if they’ve fallen, and picked up things they dropped. But that’s nothing like the bravery shown in your stories.
      If it wasn’t an overheard cell phone conversation, I might have been braver seeing someone in a distressed state. I felt like I had intruded into her private world (although she wasn’t whispering about her situation) by listening to her conversation.
      You’re right that a kind word can make a difference on a very scary day. Should there be a next time, I will try, as you suggest, and be brave about it.


      • mindlovemisery March 13, 2014 / 12:50 pm

        It is a tricky situation and I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer you follow your heart and do what you determine the best course


        • phylor March 13, 2014 / 2:57 pm

          It is a head versus heart situation. Determining the best course, for me, is a difficult decision. Thanks for the encouragement to follow my heart.


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