“The man who just came in the back door, why don’t you come around to the front of the streetcar like everyone else,” a transit driver recently said over the vehicle’s announcement system.
The driver repeated this statement several times, each time with a growing sense of irritation. I glanced up to see that a man on crutches and wearing nothing more than flip-flops and socks on a chilly November day had come on the back.
“I have a transfer” the man told the driver, and given that he was on crutches, it would have been much easier to go through the vehicle to show the driver rather than to hobble back down the stairs, go around the vehicle outside, and then get back on again. It’s worth mentioning, moreover, that generally speaking, transit drivers in Toronto are inconsistent about whether or not people can get on by the back doors. Some insist and invite people with passes and transfers to use the back door, others yell at people for this. So it’s not even necessarily the case that the man should have known better.
And yet, the transit driver insisted.
“Driver, he’s on crutches!” I called out from the back of a packed vehicle, having, I suppose, lost all sense of decorum in my old age. Just in case there was any room to doubt that I was a crazy lady screaming to herself on public transit, I repeated myself even more loudly a second time. Meanwhile, the poor man had obeyed the driver, and gingerly made his way down the steps, around the vehicle up and back up the steps. Yes, he had a transfer after all.
While the driver’s obstinate jackassery might be of some interest, what caught my attention was his emphasis on fairness. “Come through the front door like everyone else,” he said over and over. ‘This, right here is the problem with an inflexible principalist forms of ethics!’ I thought to myself. The thing is, no one is “just like everyone else.” When one is so concerned about treating everyone in an identical fashion that they lose sight of this fact, the end result doesn’t come out looking very fair at all. A one-size-fits all conception of justice that fails to recognize particularity, so as to better accommodate persons’ individualized needs is both sterile and potentially harmful. For no one in that man’s position should have been humiliated that way, and forced as he was to hobble around that streetcar as he did.
Interestingly, however, at the time I merely stared out the window embarrassed, my face flushed and wondering if I was nuts for speaking up, and calling out for compassion for another like that so publicly. Fortunately, a lady leaned in towards me to say incredulously “the driver saw the crutches,” which helped to reassure me somewhat that I wasn’t just being a cantankerous old broad. In spite of her dismissing the entire episode as what she described as a “power trip” her words also gave me hope that more generally speaking, there are some out there who realise that treating others well does not mean treating them all the same.