Beliefnet
Everyday Ethics

A friend who tells you you’ve got spinach in your teeth is a friend for life, but then there’s the stranger in line at the grocery store who reaches over and fixes your dangling bra strap (this has happened to me) — he/she becomes “that creepy stranger” for life. Technically, they’re doing the so-called right thing to do…aren’t they?

Unsolicited advice from a complete stranger — when is it the right thing to do, and when is it time to mind one’s own beeswax?  A friend wrote me about his recent predicament on the subway when he noticed a woman had her fly down. In his own words:

“Is it appropriate for a strange man to tell a woman that her fly is down…in an earnest effort to spare her greater embarrassment? And now that I’m thinking about it, I wouldn’t say anything to a strange man either!

But, this woman on the subway looked a little sad – she was overweight and decked out in preppy work clothes and I knew she was trying her best despite likely living a Bridget Jones life.

I really wanted to show her some consideration, but what if she took it in the wrong way? Also, I contend this is really why more people don’t give pregnant women their seat on the subway.”

1135743015_2c8e8d06c9_m.jpgI have to agree! It’s hard not knowing when sticking your nose in will result in a gushing thank you or a slap to the face. Plus, my poor friend had the added discomfort of having noticed something that was in this woman’s…ahem…private area.

Still, that discomfort is mostly about us, right? Not about what is in that poor, hapless soul’s best interest. So perhaps we should take a lesson from the NYC Transit slogan: If you see something, say something.

Tell me, how do you avoid being the creepy stranger dishing out unsolicited advice? Or do you simply avoid these awkward scenarios by turning your head and praying someone else (perhaps a friend) will step in to rectify the situation?

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