“It seems to me that truly decent, above-board and non-threatening conversational overtures often get lost in the cascading white noise of street harassment and responses to it,” writes N.C. Harrison.
I came of age during one of the last cohorts of young people who did not, as expressers of that good old high school spirit, carry cell phones everywhere we went like little robotic organ packs to contain, perhaps, extra lobes of liver. This was a sweeter, simpler time when Dubya was president and Buffy the Vampire Slayer could solve all of our problems with kickboxing, sass and a sharp, pointed piece of wood. Text messaging, to kids my age, mostly involved scribbling missives on little scraps of paper and passing them back and forth, hoping that our more eagle eyed teachers did not get their hands on them, a happenstance which could result in great entertainment for the whole class. Girls dotted their I’s with little hearts, guys usually with crudely drawn skulls. I asked my first girlfriend out by way of a passed note in badly mangled vocabulary from my French II course. I am pretty sure that I asked her to be my “ham,” instead of my love, but since we were kissing heartily by the end of fourth period I think the message got across. Plus she was a theater kid, anyway, so maybe ham wasn’t such a bad description of her, maybe a review of sorts.
There was no Myspace. Facebook was still something that my friend Charisma’s nerdy classmate, at Phillips Exeter Academy, was developing in his spare time. We both knew that it would never catch on and still laugh to each other, when we get a spare moment to talk, about how foolish we were. She half-jokingly says that if she could have read the future then she might have asked him to the prom, and I agree that she’d have only gotten the chance if I hadn’t gotten to him first. For that kind of money? A guy could be a little bit flexible. But I digress. We didn’t date online, except to flirt awkwardly over AOL instant messenger, and sites like OkCupid, Tinder and God help us Ashley Madison were far in the future. I don’t even remember any e-harmony commercials back in those days.
My point is this: in order to meet each other, get to know each other, maybe enjoy a little bit of quality time behind the bleachers, a boy had to walk up to a girl at CiCi’s Pizza (or vice versa) and say hello. Or, of course, try out some asinine pick-up line that he thought would work. We were teenagers, after all, and being a moron is both a painful part of the job description and one of the perks of that state. We all tried to be safe, or as safe as kids think to be at least, but without ways to effectively close ourselves off from human contact while still maintaining the illusion of it, we had to go forth and conquer in the world of flesh with all the attendant awkwardness.
That’s why it pains me, when I sign into the ubiquitous Facebook.com each day, to see the state to which communications have sunk. I see a new article, linked from the Good Men Project, Buzzfeed or elsewhere, about the moronic, overly aggressive and harassing behaviors which some guys engage in towards ladies on the street and elsewhere. I know that people have always been jerks, but it seriously sometimes seems like things have gotten worse over the years. Maybe we just see more, it’s brought more into the light? The state of things is truly embarrassing, if you were raised to be even marginally thoughtful and respectful, and it seems to me sometimes that truly decent, above-board and non-threatening conversational overtures often get lost in the cascading white noise of street harassment and responses to it. And this is sad, because eventually when people can’t talk, they’re going to stop being people. Although with the way some humans act? I can’t really see this as a bad thing, in total. Maybe half and half.
So what can a guy who hopes to be a good man do to change the way of things, to become a conscientious objector to the state of affairs? Well, for one thing, not acting out in public would be a great start—although I would dare to suspect that anyone who seeks the coveted status of “good man” would not be the sort of guy who chases hapless women on the street anyway. But he also must not be afraid to engage in “good” communications lest he allow the shouters of “hey baby” and “nice ass” to win. When the moment is right and the person is not obviously distracted or disinterested, then say something. “Hey, I’m glad the tiger finally came out, he’s been hiding all day,” is a good example from my recent experience, although it is sort of contingent on there being an actual shy tiger mixed somewhere into the equation. I also had good luck with, “These Indian mounds are amazing; to think that people were living here almost twenty thousand years ago,” although, as with the prior example, perhaps being near a collection of ancient Native American mounds might help. Work with what you’ve got, lads—there’s a whole universe out there and most of it is worthy of conversation.
It is also wise, when the occasion arises, to say something to guys who do engage in poisonous communication with lady people. Do this, also, in the right situations for maximum meaning. Some people—most people—would react terribly to being chided by a stranger and, quite frankly, brawling in the street over some raw language isn’t a great look for anyone. It certainly won’t endear you to the poor patrolman who breaks you up or the EMT who scrapes the loser off the pavement. No, this is only effective, truly, when the guy is a friend on the borderline, but such a moment might be meaningful, helping to bring him into a happier, healthier realm of interaction. Besides, it’s what friends are for, and I would certainly hope that a fellow traveler on spaceship earth would do the same thing for me. There’s a war of sorts on, out there, and nothing less than interpersonal communication is at stake. Let’s hang together and win this one, men. It’s pretty important.
 It is a website, isn’t it? An app? I don’t really know the difference.