A Moral Dilemma

Here’s a question for all you ethicists out there: how wrong does somebody else’s conversation have to be before you will intervene and correct it? I’m not talking abstract philosophical discussions here where the worse thing that can happen is that the interlocutors make a bit of a twat of themselves, but where actual advice is being given, advice that if taken is likely to work out badly.

Take yesterday, when I found myself crammed into a seat next to an American who was asking his British companions the best way for him to get himself and his luggage to Gloucester Road. They, not letting total ignorance of the London Underground system get in the way of their answer, were confidently proposing that he take the Waterloo and City line north east to Bank, before changing onto the Circle line westbound to Gloucester Road. As they then turned to the tricky question of whether it would be quicker to take the Circle line from Bank, rather than walk to Monument to change, (‘Can you actually get the Circle from Bank?’ ‘Oh yes, you can but you have to go up lots of steps and walk a long way. Almost as far as if you walked to Monument instead’) I was having to bite my tongue hard to prevent myself from chipping in and suggesting taking the Northern line up to Embankment and changing there. In the end, having wrestled with my conscience and won, I decided that the fact that his companions would be taking the drain with him and could point him in the right direction (or at least carry his luggage for him while he searched for the mythical Circle line platforms at Bank) probably outweighed the benefit of my intervening. But how wrong would they have to have been before I would have to have spoken out? Sending him via King’s Cross? Via Amersham? Never? Where would you draw the line?

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8 responses to “A Moral Dilemma

  1. And no points for mentioning (as I have just discovered by looking it up) that it would have been even quicker to suggest taking the Jubilee line to Westminster and changing there.

  2. Well, I’m German, so I’m bound to be rather uninhibited in that respect. I butt in quite quickly, but since people talk so rarely on public transport in Britain, it doesn’t happen to me much there.

    Over here, it’s an entirely different matter…

  3. I’m guessing Germany might be a more pleasant place to get lost in than London…

  4. Do people really need help on the Underground?

    I feel quite proud now. I have never needed to ask for assistance on the Underground despite being an infrequent visitor to London and having the worst sense of direction known to man.

  5. You’d think it would all be fairly self explanatory, wouldn’t you? But they guy didn’t have a proper tube map, just a silly tourist map.

    And frankly a sense of direction is almost a hindrance on the tube, given you can make the same journey on different lines and one counts it as ‘northbound’ and one as ‘southbound’

  6. Ah, that is why I have been so successful then.

  7. I had the exact same thing happening to me today, a girl got on the bus i was on and asked the driver for instructions, he messed up.
    I eveasdropped the conversation and pondered whether to correct him or not, i decided against it. She might have found her way at last. A few minutes later a french couple got on the bus and asked for instructions, he responded in fluent french giving the, I assume my french is poor, right instructions.

  8. I wouldn’t correct someone’s directions in front of them, but maybe if they went out of earshot. Though some people can’t be helped.

    At Goodge Street, southbound platform…
    Idiot: How do I get to the Jubilee line?
    Me: Get the next train and get off at Waterloo.
    Idiot: But I can get it at Charing Cross.
    Me: No, it doesn’t run there any more.
    Idiot: Yes it does.
    Me: I don’t know why you bothered to ask and I’m not going to argue with you. Good luck at Charing Cross.

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