Dear Thoughtful Pastor: I ride public transportation to get to work: two trains and a bus each direction. Over the months I have done this, I have had the opportunity to observe my fellow passengers’ behaviors. I have learned not to notice the smell of DART trains. I have become accustomed to traveling with people who clearly have little control over their situations. I can deal with that.
But once in a while I observe someone whose behavior is clearly by choice and yet distressful. One day recently, several people boarded a northbound train. There were few empty seats in the car. A young man elected to sit in the jump seat just in front of me. The problem: he was wearing way too much scent (it was as if he had spilled his bottle of after shave or cologne on himself that morning). The scent was so heavy that taking a deep breath left me coughing repeatedly. I also felt slightly nauseated because of the scent. Had we been in a more crowded situation (say on a bus or subway train that was SRO), I feel certain that others would have been similarly affected.
Thoughtful Pastor: What should I do in such a situation? Should I have explained to him how heavy scent can affect others? Or is this something he will eventually figure out on his own? There was, of course, the chance that he did spill the stuff accidentally rather than bathe in it by choice.
As some point I began to think, WWJD? Yes, I remember the speck in the eye vs. the log in my own. Still, this can be a health issue for asthmatics or people with allergies. What is the right thing to do?
I quit wearing perfume a number of years ago when I faced lot of airplane travel. Even though I could not smell it myself, others probably could and it might bother them.
You’ve raised a legitimate question of harm. Many carry sensitivity to these scents. Periodically I have to remind my husband to use half of preferred amount of cologne because when I walk in the closet after he has anointed himself I get a headache.
Yet we have chosen as a society not to ban perfumes, colognes, aftershaves. Those with allergies have to tolerate them or figure out how to avoid exposure. We do this because we recognize that there is a commons all share. Public transportation is part of it. We need to decide how to manage the shared space for the sake of the greatest good.
In the classic explanation of the commons, a village has a grassy area, the commons, on which to graze its animals. But if one person decides to expand the number of animals and places all the expanded flock on the commons, everyone else suffers.
In the best of worlds then, all show restraint in order to respect the mutual nature of the commons.
I suggest that you are the one who must show restraint. Yes, you have discomfort, but there are ways to relieve it. What we don’t know is the young man’s back-story, where he comes from, how such a use of cologne might be preferable to other options
Look at the bigger picture here: those who insist on a scent free or limited scent environment can be accused of taking a bigger share of the commons. This may change in the future–it certainly did with smoking, once utterly acceptable anywhere, now absolutely forbidden except for limited spaces. But for now, quiet compassion is generally the best choice.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: I am interested in your opinion on why there are so many religious and spiritual (I see these as separate) leaders that eat meat? How do they justify the pain and suffering that is put upon sentient beings of this world?
Like it or not, animal flesh is a energy-dense and often necessary means to survival, not just for people but for other living beings. Yes, people can and do survive solely on plant life. However, human history suggests that some sort of animal protein when available has been the major energy source from the earliest times. Certainly, the writers of the Bible had every expectation that humans would consume animals.
However, that does not excuse actions that cause intentional suffering.
If you’ve never read any of Temple Grandin’s work, I’d strongly encourage you to do so. Ms. Grandin has autism, and her unique way of perceiving the world eventually led her to create amazingly sensitive and humane ways to deal with cattle as they went to the slaughterhouses.
Now, having said that, much of the mass produced meat today does indeed come from ways that are truly horrifying to observe. However, there is a growing backlash against such environments, and I personally hope for a world in which all life is honored.
[Note: a version of this column is slated to run in the May 6, 2016 edition of the Denton Record Chronicle. The Thoughtful Pastor, AKA Christy Thomas, welcomes all questions for the column. Although the questioner will not be identified, I do need a name and verifiable contact information in case the newspaper editor has need of it. Please email questions to: email@example.com.]