Barbarians at the banquet

Over the weekend we attended a fundraiser dinner which featured a keynote speaker. I was more than a bit appalled at the lack of courtesy exhibited by many of the attendees. I can somewhat understand that people would keep talking when the emcee would cut in with an announcement. The room was loud enough that they might not have even been able to hear her start talking.

But during the keynote speaker’s presentation I could hear quite a few people talking loudly in the back, as if they felt they needed to compete with the speaker. Small children were running up and down the aisle, squealing loudly as they ran, their parents following close behind. At first I thought they were taking their noisy kids out, but no, before long they’d be back again, headed the other direction, over and over again.

I felt terrible for the speaker having to talk over these people. I felt terrible for the organization who had sponsored him to come speak. Considering we were supposedly all there to support the organization, it was irritating to see the lack of support and respect from some of these people.

This was not an isolated incident. A few months ago our kids’ elementary school held a back-t0-school night to inform us all on what was going on at the school this year. As the principal was talking a great number of adults in the back were also talking, and with not even a token attempt to do so quietly. I could barely hear the principal at all.

What happened? When did we stop teaching and/or expecting audience etiquette? I was taught at an early age how to behave during public speeches, performances and the like. Evidently quite a few were not. We’ve become desensitized by out technology. Are we spending so much time interacting with screens that we forget how to interact with real people?

When everything is digital and viewable on screens smaller than your palm it becomes very easy to regard all situations as if everything were separated by that “fourth wall” that keeps the viewer ignorant of the wider world. We need not worry about talking during a YouTube video. They can’t hear us. We walk around in public places yelling into our cellphones, and the only time we take it outside is if the signal is bad.

Give us live music or a public speaker and we evidently have no idea how to behave. If something needs to be said, we say it now–and loudly. Forget whispering, we’ve forgotten even how to use our “inside voices”. Someone else is trying to listen to the speaker? Heh. Sucks to be them, heh heh. It’s all about me and what I want. And right now I want to talk. It’s been at least five minutes since I’ve heard the duclet sound of my own voice, and oh, I miss it so.

I have no idea how to turn this annoying trend around. But if the parents don’t set the example the kids certainly won’t learn.

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8 Responses to Barbarians at the banquet

  1. Terhi says:

    It’s all about ME these days. Just listen to a radio and you hear that if you win some money this Christmas time you are supposed to spend it on “ME” – because “I” deserve it. Who cares about Christmas and goodwill. Christmas is the time when you don’t have to feel guilty about spending money on “ME” – like some people ever would.

    The world sucks and it’s hard to be optimistic about it getting better any time soon. All we can do is “to be the change we wish to see in the world.” And it starts with teaching our own kids how to behave.

  2. Sadly, you are correct. I could give you plenty of examples where I was truly embarrassed by the lack of courtesy exhibited by others. All I can do is make sure me and mine are courteous. And sit near the front.

  3. Terhi has spoken truly, if even more gloomily than I. Everything is all about “me”. Thank you 60s and Doctor Spock.

  4. I think part of it comes from not understanding that certain venues and events have “rules” that differ from others. During a sporting event or at a club, you would probably talk to your buddies. People just don’t understand that some situations are different. We had this problem with our choir concerts. Several years ago, they put together a video that they show at the beginning of each event reminding people of concert etiquette. Many of the parents and friends have not attended events like this and need to be taught what the expectations are.

    Also, I’ve started playing very short postlude after church because the organ just makes people talk louder. It’s not moving them to get to Sunday School, so why should I compete with the conversations in the chapel.

    • Thom says:

      Interesting point, Jeannine. This may be a case where rules clashed. Was this a serious lecture, or was this a dinner? Heaven knows most restaurants these days go for the loudest acoustics they can engineer. The last place I was in I couldn’t hear myself think, let alone speak to anyone. Perhaps some people are becoming conditioned to think if there’s food involved they have to yell.

  5. As I have worked in the children’s organization at church over the last ten years I have frequently noted that much of the noise in the room is coming from the adults, not the children. At times I have actually stopped teaching a song or talking to the children and asked the adults in the back of the room to please either sing along or take their conversations outside. It is beyond me how they expect us to teach the children reverence when they’re in the back of the room carrying on conversations without even lowering their voices. If I as an adult can’t focus with them talking, how can we expect the children to?

    • Thom says:

      Quite true. In the instance of the school presentation the kids were being quiet. It was the adults who were noisy. Children probably understand better than adults these days that there are times and places to shut up and listen.

  6. Denise Stratton says:

    Oh for a quiet restaurant! I wonder if people have become uncomfortable with silence.

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