October 16, 2005

Get off the Phone

Time is valuable and we have so little of it that we make the best of our “elective” activities. In the past month I have twice encountered people who have lost all sense of decorum and have answered and then talked on their cell phones in the middle of a contemplative group activity.

The first was a woman who answered her phone while I was teaching the Business Arts Council’s Board Leadership Training program. It was an intimate group of focused individuals and there was one square peg who answered her phone and did not get up and walk out but actually sat and began a conversation, at full volume. None of us could believe this was happening so we just kept going. About a minute into the situation two people leaned over to her and asked her to take the conversation outside. I was about to lean in and make the same request but I was trying to teach for the other folks that were actually paying attention. The gross offender got up, while still talking, and slowly meandered out of the room. We were all in shock.

Then it happened again today in yoga class. Twenty people got up early on a Sunday morning, independently decided to come to class and commit their few spare leisure hours, together convening in a one-hour peaceful and meditative yoga class. At least that was our expectation. Except for the woman who had her blackberry in hand while in downward dog pose, chatting away while 19 other apparently irrelevant people tried to find peace of mind. In an effort to be yoga-like I tried to ignore the woman and meditate. Forget it. I was shocked and disgusted. Then my attention turned to the teacher hoping that she would say something. Like me when I was teaching she was focused on delivering to the people who were actually there to do yoga. Finally the unfortunate person posed behind this chatterer got out of downward dog and asked the woman to please take it outside. This was after a second phone call. After class, when numerous people thanked the kind soul for asking the talker to get off the phone, she said that she had been embarrassed to make the request but she “only has one hour a week to dedicate to yoga.”

Yes, time is valuable but if you are committing to a group activity have the consideration to respect the needs of others. As adults we try to rationalize the situation and stay focused on why we were in the activity. And from the instructor’s point of view we try to not oil the squeaky wheel but rather give them a one-minute chance to regain their senses. Being in this situation is akin experiencing an earthquake and thinking, “when is this going to end” but not actually doing anything about the situation.