Friday, May 29, 2009

The DMV Bans Smiles, and Metro Encourages Doing the Right Thing

Back on March 12, I wrote a post about a book by Lucinda Holdforth titled Why Manners Matter. In the book, Ms Holdforth lamented the decline in simple good manners and why it's important to us; I added my own commentary (naturally) in my post.

I thought about the topic again yesterday when I ran across these two articles in The Washington Post: "As If It Needed to, Virginia Bans Smiles at the DMV," and "Courtesy-Minded Metro Stands Up for Riders Who Shouldn't Have To."

The first article discusses the bizarre new rule for driver's license photos at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles: customers are now told not to smile for their picture, but to adopt a "neutral expression." The reason: when the photos are similar, computerized image-recognition programs work better. Yes, forget "Smile! You're on Candid Camera!" Now it's, "Look bland in case we have to track you down later." A DMV spokesman said that the new software is "programmed to reject attempts at exuberance or human warmth," and that "It will send an error message if it detects a non-neutral expression."

The bad guys have won another round against us - they've robbed us of our smiles.

The second article looks at the way many Metro rail riders lucky enough to find a seat at peak times will studiously ignore people who may need the seat more than they do - passengers who are pregnant, blind, elderly, or disabled. By law, the seats closest to the doors are supposed to be reserved for those most in need...but it doesn't always work that way. Not only do many able-bodied people sit there and ignore those for whom the seats are intended, but I often also see young people who sprawl across two seats (and leave their feet sticking out into the aisle for people to trip over), or pile the adjacent seat high with their belongings, even when others are standing.

How have we come to this? My parents worked hard to drill good manners into us, and they would have knocked me into the next zip code if I'd failed to offer a seat to someone who needed it. But even without those lessons, simple, common courtesy suggests that we should be more solicitous toward those more in need. I think it's sad that people sometimes seem surprised when I offer them a seat, as if no one expects simple acts of kindness and compassion any more.

My driver's license was issued on my birthday in 2006, back when you could still smile for the picture, and - sure enough - I'm smiling in the photo. Of course, as my father would have said, it makes me look like the face on an iodine bottle, but nevertheless it's a smile.

And I really hate to give it up because it will make some stupid software work better.

Have a good day. Offer someone who needs it a seat on the bus, and smile while you do it. You'll feel better.

Tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday, unless Mike poaches all the good cartoons first. Fat chance.

Be here.



KKTSews said...

I an remember unbuttoning my overcoat and shoving my pregnant belly in the face of some idiot who was taking up those seats at the front--and I managed to get the message across! This was in Boston, where people are much nicer than in DC (where I traveled frequently when pregnant and couldn't get a seat).
Folks in DC are just rude. They are too busy and too disconnected from each other (don't TALK on a bus or the metro). My co-worker yesterday suggested what society needs again is a bit of shame when people act out. That's what our parents did, after all.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Oh geebus I need to get my license renewed

Gilahi said...

"But even without those lessons, simple, common courtesy suggests that we should be more solicitous toward those more in need."And there you answer your own question. Simple, common courtesy is still simple, but certainly not common. People are either unaware or simply don't care, for the most part.

Amanda said...

Oh yes...The non smiling photos. We had to get some of those for Aaron's passport and it took ages because we have been training him to smile whenever a camera comes out!

Mike said...

You won't hurt my feelings if you do a buttbook carton. Did you go to the human site?

Mike said...

cartoon - buttbook cartoon. But a carton of buttbook would be interesting too.

Debbie said...

On a happier note...since I became disabled last fall, I have been overwhelmed with the kindness and considerate acts of strangers. Hurray for NYer's...dispelling the unkind myths about us.

Leslie David said...

I guess I'll face the no smiling thing when I renew my license next year.

Courtesy? I just had a conversation with my mother--my younger sister is raising my 14 year old twin nieces without it--when visiting my parents they'd walk by my dad in a room without saying anything, they didn't bother to thank me for their birthday presents this year (guess what--next year they just get the card without the cash)and they do no chores. None. My sister and I were not raised that way, but hey, if she wants to be their slave, fine, but I don't go to her place to visit.

On the flip side, when I was still crutching it around DC after my foot surgery last summer, I did have someone get up and offer me a seat on the Metro so I wouldn't have to try and maintain balance by holding on to the pole and the crutch.

John said...

It pleases me more than I can say when people comment on how polite my kids are. It certainly makes me want to encourage others by recognizing good manners when I encounter them.
Gilahi is is not so common.

SusieQ said...

I am lucky. I live in the Chicago suburbs where good manners are commonplace.

In fact, we nearly knock each other down trying to open the door for each other when entering a store. And if you are in the checkout aisle at the grocery store and all you have are a handful of items to buy, people with a cart full are usually courteous and offer to let you go ahead of them. Bet you don't see that kind of thing in D.C.

anOCgirl said...

chivalry is dead in DC. a few years ago, i hurt my ankle pretty bad and it was placed in a cast. everywhere i went, i was in crutches. i took the metro to work for two days and not one person offered me a seat. it's very hard to hold on to the railing when you're on crutches.