Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Politeness Conundrum

Doors are, obviously, a common feature in all prisons. In Closed prisons, they remain under the control of staff because they are invariably locked. Moving from A to B is a matter of waiting for the screw to unlock the door, pass through, then wait for him to relock it.

Open prison is different. Without locks, doors suddenly fall within our domain. And this raises a minor dilemma of civility.
In passing through a door in Closed prison I have to give no thought to the guy behind me. The door stays open, controlled by staff, until it is locked again. Here, though, I have what I call The Tesco Conundrum. As I pass through a door, at what point am I absolved from considering the guy behind me?
I appreciate that Tesco has automatic doors, but still... when I'm passing down the main corridor, barging through the series of doors, how far behind me should I look? If a guy is a few feet behind me, holding the door open until he is closer is fine. But if he's miles away, I let the door swing shut. But where is that cut-off point? Where does civility slide into servility?
You will appreciate that the levels of civility are far greater than in Closed prisons, and I put this down to two factors. Firstly, that everyone here has been selected as being broadly "trustworthy", meaning there is a higher proportion of "sensible" people. And secondly, because Open prisons run with so few staff, we are forced to regulate most social interactions for ourselves; there's no screw standing there to keep us in line.
In such circumstances the only two options are to adopt a broadly benign and civil disposition to
all around, or to descend into a Hobbesian nightmare of war of all against all. The former option is the popular one. And that means not allowing doors to swing back into the face of the person following behind.
At this rate I'm in danger of becoming "civilised"!


  1. My system is to try to judge if, should I let the door drop, it would close bfore the person got within 1 step of it (i.e. it would not close in their face.) If so, I let the door drop. If not, I hold it. Except that sometimes I hold it anyway, and then they feel the need to jog up to it so as not to make me wait, and it's a bit awkward all 'round.

  2. Having the same or similar system as Jess, I don't find it awkward most of the time, maybe occasionaly, but civilised it is, definitly civilised. Welcome Ben! Love and bw's to you, an enjoyable post again xx

  3. But then there is the problem that the door is on a really slow arm closey thingy (I don't know its technical name) and it drifts closed slowly behind you, meaning it ends up feeling like you shut it in the face of the guy who was 20m behind you.