Lessons from the elevator

I was riding down on the elevator towards the lobby today, when the elevator stopped and let on an elderly lady.  We smiled a greeting at each other, and then were silent.  When the elevator got to the lobby, I held back, she got off, then I got off.  It was all very easy.

It was easy because she and I understood the hierarchy:  elderly lady takes precedence over middle aged lady.  Had there been a man on board the elevator, even if he was older than I, he would have gotten off the elevator last.  Men go after women.  In Texas, this resulted in what I used to call the “Texas elevator dance.”  No matter the order in which people boarded the elevator, when it reached the lobby, all the men do-si-doed towards the back wall of the elevator so that the women could get off first.

Some might say that these hierarchical rules are ridiculous.  I know that when I attended Berkeley in the late 1970s/early 1980s, many of the young men made a point of not opening doors for women.  This wasn’t because they were rude.  It was because some feminist nut chick had yelled at them once too often for assuming that she was too helpless to handle a door by herself.  It just wasn’t worth taking the chance that the next woman for whom you opened a door would start screaming invective at you, with “male chauvinist pig” probably being the nicest thing she said.

The fact is, though, that there is much to be said for the traditional hierarchy.  In the 2nd decade of the 21st century, nobody is silly enough to think that one should open a door for a woman because she is helpless.  Likewise, on a crowded bus, a tired man is just as grateful for a seat as a tired woman.  Nevertheless, the orderliness of manners is nice.  As I mentioned above, it’s awfully nice not hovering around an elevator door, wondering when your turn comes.  Rules ease interactions, just as it’s useful, when arriving at an intersection, to know that the person on the right has “right of way.”  It’s not that he or she is better, or favored by law, it’s that people need to know the triggers for action.

And that is all I have to say on the subject.