So I'm walking home from work yesterday, and as I'm about to pass by this church on First Ave. in Belltown, I idly notice a guy with a guitar sitting on the front steps. I only glance at him, but it's enough to gather an impression that this is an average guy. Not young, not old. Not homeless-ish, but not snazzy.
As I am about to pass the man in question, he says "Hey there. How's it going?"
I display what I intend to be an I'm-acknowledging-your-existence-but-I'm-not-going-to-talk-to-you smile.
Well, either he didn't see the smile, or it simply failed to meet his expectations, because he starts to yell, "Hey! You! I'm talking you you! Yeah, YOU!"
This verbal tirade continues as I walk down the street, until I put about a half block between us. I never responded, never looked back, which I'm sure irked him far more than if I turned around and told him to F-off, with accompanying hand gestures.
As I walk, I ponder: Why do some people believe that when they speak to a stranger on the street, that the stranger has an obligation to respond?
Every few months or so, I come across some jackass like Mr. Church Steps Sitter (the same church where a rightous young couple bitched at us for letting Doofus take care of his dog business on the building's side lawn...only to start swearing at us when I said we weren't Christian...but I digress).
In many cases, it's someone asking for money who gets mad when I ignore him (yes, always a him) and keep walking.
Occasionally, it's one of those sidewalk telemarketers who piss me off so much (Some days, I swear that if I hear someone ask me "Do you have a few minutes for the environment?" or "Do you have a moment to help ensure better health care?" one more time, I'm going to punch somebody. It's a good thing I don't carry a gun.). You would think they would have to be polite, but some of them get a bit pissy when you ignore them. Again, only the guys.
I may have spouted about this before, but I firmly believe that my only obligation to strangers is to not cause them harm. As an extention of that, I believe that if I came across someone who was choking, having a heart attack, or was physically hurt or in immediate danger of becomeing so, and if helping them would not put myself in the same or worse danger, then I have a moral obligation to involve myself with that person.
But talking to someone just because they talk to me first? I don't think so.
One caveat: Living in Belltown and working downtown, I am often asked directions by tourists or people from the 'burbs. I always try to help them, unless it's a lone guy asking, and I suspect he's just asking directions as a means to engage me in conversation. I have a pretty good radar about that sort of thing.
The church steps incident reminded me of my heady college days, when the Political Correctness demon ran amok on campuses across the nation (this was the late 80s, early 90s). I distinctly remember the argument being made by various women's (and sympathetic men's) groups that, because "any man could be a rapist," nice guys should go out of their way to cross the street should they ever find themselves sharing a sidewalk with a woman after dark. So she wouldn't think "Oh, no! There's a man on the sidewalk with me, and I can't tell by looking at him if he's a rapist, because it's dark and because even in daylight you can't really tell just by looking at someone."
I understood the though process behind that idea, but always felt it went a bit too far. I would never expect a man to cross the street to avoid scaring me, but damn it, if he talks to me and I don't want to talk to him, than he can just shove it!