Monday, March 7, 2011

On Social Contracts: Public Bathroom Etiquette

Social contracts refer to those agreements we have between one another and our environment which dictate our behavior and the nature of our interactions. These unwritten rules are the cornerstone of our society.

For example, technically marriage and manogamy represent a kind of social contract.  It is not illegal to cheat on your spouse or significant other, but it is generally agreed upon that it is a bad thing to do.

Other examples include holding the door open for a person behind you (although I am not sure if I am supposed to hold the door open for women now, or slam it in their faces to show them how much I support feminism), saying excuse me or god bless you, or - a topic near and dear to my heart - public locker room etiquette.

Today, I would like to broach a related subject, namely that of public bathroom etiquette.  Using the restroom is something we all do on a daily basis, most likely multiple times.  However, we seem to at least try to deny this.  For example, characters in movies or television rarely even use the restroom, let alone take a dump. And, as much as I think we'd like to assume otherwise, even girls have to poop sometimes.

Why do we ignore this basic human function, or at least downplay its signficant role in our lives?  Probably because it is kind of gross, and awkward.  And I am cool with that. 

However, most of us have to leave our homes for extended periods at some point and thus cannot avoid using a public restroom. Whether it be at work or while you are out doing something else, we are all faced with having to use a public bathroom on an almost daily basis. These situations can be quite awkward and, in some cases, even very stressful when you encounter other people - be they friends, colleagues, or complete strangers - who are in the same proverbial boat.

Thus the need for a social contract governing public restroom use.

In my opinion, there are some basic universal rules that should constitute this important agreement.

Rule #1: No talking, especially if either party is in the act of "doing their business." In fact, eye contact should even be avoided. A simple nod of the head is more than sufficient to not seem rude.

Rule #2: The every other seat/station rule.  Basically, if there is an option, you leave a space between you and the next user. Furthermore, upon entering an empty bathroom you should make your station choice so as to make it possible for incoming users to abide by Rule #2.

Rule #3: Any natural sound effects should be disregarded.  All involved parties should continue on as if nothing just happened.

So why I am posting this today?  Well, here is a picture of the "stations" in a public restroom I tend to frequent.

Today I had an encounter in the bathroom that involved the breaking of Rules 1 and 2.  You get the idea. Personally, I think the middle station should just be removed altogether.  

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