Public or Private?

Which is it? Which should it be? What is my obligation with respect to my behavior, choices and actions? Are there guidelines; should there be guidelines? Who decides? These are questions that ran through my mind as I lay in my hotel room bed wanting very much to be asleep and instead listening to my neighbors narrate their sexual experience for the night. Loudly and with what felt like a fake enthusiasm. I was very happy to find that they had checked out the next day.

Being in a hotel room feels private. We are surrounded by walls and are separated from public view (assuming here you have closed the shades). But the walls typically are thin so there is a certain amount of sharing and awareness of the other that happens whether intentionally or not. When I my then young children my husband and I would always remind them that they had to be quiet in the room because there were a lot of people around us who could hear. Maybe that was a lesson more about courtesy than privacy because little kids tend to act the same in public as they do in private, but it felt like a foundational lesson that they should learn. When in a shared space be aware of the fact that you are sharing.

A hotel room is not really entirely private. We can’t see each other but we can hear each other. My hotel neighbors sounded like they were reading from a script of what to do and say while having sex. But maybe also your neighbors don’t need to be an audience and the illusory sense of privacy created by four walls is really only perceived anonymity and you should pipe down a bit because we are all sharing this space and some of us would like to sleep.

So as I lay there wanting to be asleep and not being asleep because my neighbors were not being asleep I thought about the nature of our private lives and our public lives. We have intertwined the two dramatically with social media and a constant seeking of approval for every thought and action. What behavior belongs in the private realm, for our own thoughts or close friends and confidants, and what should be shared with the world at large? Does courtesy play a role in making this decision, and if so does courtesy include standard social mores and customs?

I wasn’t offended by the fact that I was listening to sex, I was offended by the volume of sound at that hour of night. I was equally put out on a business trip when my room adjoined someone who decided 3am was the perfect time for a phone conference with India. The difference in those two experiences was that with the business call I simply found the behavior rude and inconsiderate; surely this person was aware of the fact that they were in a hotel and there were other guests trying to sleep. With my sexy neighbors I wondered about the propriety of the sounds. I’m not particularly prude but I also didn’t want to have to listen to someone having sex. It was too intimate, too personal a thing to be sharing in an effectively public way. I am not suggesting that two consenting adults should not have sex, I am suggesting that it be limited to the two consenting adults and not shared with a wider audience unless they too have consented to being an audience.

I don’t think we ask ourselves enough what the rest of the world wants or needs to know about us. We just put it all out there and let others do with it what they will. That can be good with an open and honest sharing that others can learn from or be comforted by, that kid of I’m not alone sort of thing. Or it can be bad if we don’t give others a choice and share things that not everyone is interested in being a part of. If you have something to share with the public, share it, make it available, post your hotel exploits on you tube if it’s that important that the world be involved. But perhaps also let the rest of the world make their own choice about what is right for them, and don’t feel the need to force them to participate. Maybe it’s as simple as remembering that you are sharing this space so have your moments that are just for you and leave room for others to do the same.


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