Approaching a stranger with your hand extended


I haven’t wanted to say anything about Josh Olson’s often-linked rant about people asking him to read their scripts.

A lot of people have already dissected this from several angles and the only thing I could contribute to the conversation is that Josh Olson used to post in that sort of tone all the time back on the Wordplayer boards. (And the search engines at the site will only cough up one result when I search for Olson and fuck. Hah! I say. HAH!) That was his thing, and it wasn’t such a big deal in that context.

There’re also several posts on the topic by John Scalzi–this is an example of where he stands–and Lee Goldberg.

But what makes me think about this are the political activists outside the library.

See, every time I make my Wednesday trip to the library, there’s a pair (or more) of young, attractive activists soliciting signatures or whatever for lefty causes. And while I support lefty causes (generally) and have a ACLU card right here in my wallet, I don’t want to stop and talk to these people. I don’t have time on my lunch break, and at the end of the day I’m trying to reach a bus.

Most of the time, they’re fine with me shaking my head and looking away as I walk by. Or they’re not so put out that I know about it. But sometimes they go a little too far.

Not too long ago, a young woman stepped up to me as I walked by with her hand extended as though we should shake. As though a busy city sidewalk was a social situation where folks meet and greet.

I perceived that extended hand as an imposition, because I knew she was trying to use social cuing to make me stop what I was doing and deal with her thing. It annoyed me, and I nearly said “Don’t do that.”

And then yesterday, I had a guy walking to intercept me, with his hand extended like he wanted to shake. And since he was moving to block my path, it came across as aggressive.

“Not interested,” I said.

“In what?” he answered, knowing very well that I had no idea what cause he wanted to run by me.

“Talking,” I answered.

Did he think I was a dick? Hell, yeah. I saw it on his face and heard it in his voice. But what that guy didn’t understand is that he was intruding on me and my time. It’s like walking up to a stranger on the street and taking a bite out of the sandwich in their hand.

He should be asking me from a distance. He shouldn’t be moving to intercept me. He shouldn’t be offering his hand to me as though we’d just been introduced by a mutual friend. What he should do is ask me, as I approach “Do you have a minute to talk about the whales (or whatever).” That’s it.

And this is why I have tremendous sympathy for Olson, Scalzi and Lee Goldberg, no matter how I feel about the tone of their comments. Some people do not understand that they are not entitled to your time. They think they get to decide how important my schedule is. They think their needs are paramount.

It’s not that people shouldn’t ask for things. It’s that they don’t know how to do it correctly.