Monday, August 12, 2013

A Decent Idea That'll Never Work

A woman in front of me at the check out counter makes small talk with the cashier. I find her voice beautiful. For someone who is tone deaf in regards to his own singing, I have wildly specific preferences when it comes to sound. Her sound I could listen to everyday. She walks away, never to be heard from again.

After attending Easter service with my religious family, I overhear a teen leaving the church who asks his parents why there is evil in the world if God is good. The kid’s dad offers a “mysterious ways” response and moves on.

What do these two scenarios have in common? In both I wanted to engage someone who it was socially awkward to engage.

In the case of the woman, my interrupting her exit with the simple compliment “you have a beautiful voice,” could make me a creep if she’s immediately uninterested in me, a potential mate if she is interested, and so far out of the ordinary that it’s bound to be weird regardless. To be clear, while I obviously don’t want to be a creep, neither do I want to be her mate. I’m happily married which makes compliments to strange women in any situation somewhat inappropriate. When I said “her sound I could listen to everyday,” I meant only as a friend...or if nothing else, the voice of my GPS.

In the case of the child at church, I’d be leaving my family to answer a question posed to someone else. Offering my take on the problem of evil could be seen as anything from blasphemy on church grounds or telling the kid’s folks how to parent. These possible charges are more than enough in my cost/benefit analysis to persuade me not to engage publicly.

These are small problems. Nevertheless, we have a woman who likely would have enjoyed a compliment under proper conditions, a kid who missed out on an answer to an honest question and me who wanted to share something positive with each. It got me thinking, how could this have gone better?

I thought about how texting is the preferred way to deliver information without the need of pleasantries or the pressure to fill in a conversation. I thought about a location-based service in which a tweet-like message could be sent to geographic neighbors. I thought about how maintaining Internet-like anonymity would make this less creepy in that no real personal information is shared and no motives outside of “just letting you know” could be assumed.

Then I thought about how this service would never reach the user base needed to make the service useful because it would already need to be useful to encourage the growth of the user base: a Catch-22. Then I thought what makes me think an anonymous service that allows for real-time criticism of any social interaction would have a net positive affect on society? It would likely result in an echo chamber of “fail” notices. I’d be no closer to sharing information and affirmations and yet acutely aware of when I’m pwed. I guess I’ll go back to wishing I had telepathy.


  1. A service like that would be nice, but would also play out on the negative side too, as you feared.

    I say, pay the compliment. The sincerity of your appreciation would likely outweigh the creepiness factor. Unless you lurch up and say something like "you got a purdy mouth." ;-)

    1. I agree with TWF. Most women don't take offense at a compliment from a stranger in a public place unless it's apparent it is meant to be creepy.

    2. I actually laughed out load for the purdy mouth comment.

  2. I agree with TWF and Anna; paying the compliment would probably have been appreciated. Not sure about the honest answer to the church thing. Probably, that child will grow up with that question rattling around his head because he didn't get a satisfactory answer. Thanks to the Internet, the honest answers are out there to find.

    1. I guess you're right. I might just be over cautious.