A few days ago, I was in Doe Library, hammering out a midterm essay that counted for 40% of my grade. I was in the zone, crafting one of my pivotal body paragraphs, finding that I was finally able to articulate an idea that I’d been slaving over for the past half hour -- when all of a sudden my attention was diverted by semi-muted laughs and aggressive whispering. A group of three girls had arrived and claimed seats across from me. I became frustrated and nervous that their presence was about to ruin my workflow, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt by returning to my essay and trying to concentrate nonetheless.
A brief minute passed before I was disrupted again. One of the girls had reached across the table to show her friends something on her phone. Now all three of them were moving about, throwing their heads back in silent laughter. I felt anger bubbling inside me, but again I reminded myself that they had only just arrived. They needed a few more moments to settle into the library atmosphere. So I put my head down and returned to work again, giving them another chance.
But the ruckus continued. They were “whispering,” sure, but they might as well have been speaking at a normal volume because I could hear them loud and clear, even over Mozart blasting in my headphones.
Not only have I been the victim to this kind of behavior multiple times, but I’ve watched from across the library as others have fallen victim as well. It’s both tragic and borderline comedic when innocent, well-meaning library goers, strangers to one another, all of a sudden become comrades: sharing glances with each other like, “are they really doing this,” responding with a, “yeah, they’re really fucking doing this.”
The ‘old me’ from a few years ago would’ve sat idly by, silently cursing their names, aggressively typing, occasionally giving the perpetrators dirty looks or coughing in a suggestive way. But I’ve come a long way from those days. As I’ve worked on being a more assertive person (at some point in high school, I realized that passively allowing others’ actions to wash over me is, ironically enough, sometimes just too exhausting), I’ve integrated a personal policy of telling people to be quiet in shared spaces that require quiet.
So, I asked those girls to be quiet. Not passive-aggressively (“hey, your conversation sounds super interesting but not everyone wants to hear it!”), and not aggressively, either (“hey, will you shut the fuck up?”), but cordially (“hey, would you mind keeping it down a bit? Thank you!”). And they did just that. They were quiet. Sure, they may have been annoyed for a few minutes. I was the party pooper who extinguished their fun, after all. They were also a bit embarrassed -- which usually makes me feel awkward, as if I’ve suddenly become an elementary school teacher scolding my students for disrupting the classroom. But I try not to feel awkward; I instead try to feel empowered by the fact that I’m working toward the common good, acting as a preserver of the sanctity of shared spaces, if you will.
I take this policy beyond libraries, also. Just a few months ago, my sister and I were attending a midnight showing of the Incredibles 2 -- (yes, the Incredibles 2!!! A very long-awaited, highly-anticipated cinematic experience!!) -- but it was being ruined by a girl sitting beside us who was texting and whispering to her friends during the film. Her iPhone’s bright light was taking me and my sister out of the movie, so I leaned over to her and whispered, “hey, could you put your phone away?” She quickly did so. It’s worth noting, though, that as we were shuffling out of the theater at the end of the film, she flipped me off, giggling away with her friends. But I didn’t care. The important thing is that I, and others, could enjoy the movie in peace.
You, too, can preserve the sanctity of your libraries and movie theaters! As I’ve established myself as the “quiet-enforcer,” I’ll receive texts from friends that say something like, “I’m sitting next to a bunch of people in the library who won’t shut up -- wish you were here to tell them off.” I’m quite honored to receive these texts -- this quality I’ve adopted has made me feel a bit badass (lol)-- but I also hope more people can learn to be comfortable playing the “quiet-enforcer” themselves. The lawbreakers can relocate to Moffitt, or talk after the show, or text on their phone later. Despite the sometimes sour endings to these moments of courage, I’ve always found that I never regret speaking up. I’ll take a brief moment of hostility from a stranger over keeping my frustration pent up inside as I lose precious hours of productivity or escapism.
It only takes one person to infect a space. And whatever that space promises its occupants -- whether it be a quiet study space for productivity or a movie theater in which we can each escape -- you and everyone has a right to enjoy it.