Whether we affirm or deny the statement of the title, we still must begin by asking, What is decency? I would like to proceed by anecdote—two, in fact, and along the way multiply footnotes.
Last Friday I became aware of another passenger when he brushed me brusquely, rubbing my fur the wrong way. I twisted to see what the matter was and by means of touch and sight observed how he shoved himself through the crowd ungently, wore a fishing hat, a sour look, and went clutching a book—perhaps a tourist.* Eventually the upheaval passed down-bus and the intruder positioned himself awkwardly, much to the annoyance of his fellow travelers. When the doors opened and the crowds stirred uneasily, he bumped and turned and managed to become further wedged and worse off. By this time I had become an avid fan of this presumptive tourist, and it was just in time to watch the exciting finale. He decided to exit, but managed to do it so obnoxiously that the people coming into the bus blocked him and nearly pushed him back. I was laughing by the time he won through. But there is also some instruction in this. The man obviously hated the crowds, as most of us do, but he also behaved as if the crowd did not exist. It is one thing to believe a crowd should not exist, it is another to deny its existence when you are in the midst of it. He failed to consider the individuals in the crowd around him, that they were responsive and living.
My second anecdote occurred on a Tuesday. It was a fellow who understood that in a crowd one has to proceed with regard to the individuals of the crowd around him. I heard him apologize when he inadvertently overextended the imaginary bounds allotted to himself, and then when the people were passing through, like decent people everywhere, he endeavored to make himself small or to lean out of the way any time somebody signaled an intention to pass.** There was nothing servile or undignified with what this person was doing, of course. He was just making sure he was considerate with the wishes of others and taking the circumstances under consideration. He was a decent fellow.***
You can see how decency excites admiration. One might say, based on my anecdotes, that decency is the resulting behavior when persons and circumstances are taken into best consideration. It makes for harmony in difficult circumstances and is therefore to be admired and emulated.
*In countries in which few persons fish, the waters being foul, the fish scarce, and the practice entirely in the hands of commercial endeavor, a fishing hat is almost a certain sign of a tourist. Clutching a book the way this person was is usually not a good sign if one is charitably attempting to exonerate the suspect from the charge of tourism.
**Signaling one’s intention to pass is easy, providing people are decent. It makes one wary of making a false signal and putting a decent person to the trouble of obliging for nothing at all. All one has to do is whisper “permiso” or even just rearrange one’s grip so that it indicates a forward advance: decent people will usually notice this.
***This said decent fellow also had the decency of small feet. Colombians generally do: they take up less space. I think it is for this reason they have generally preferred tighter to looser pants. Sometimes, you see, in an excess of decency they grow feet that might be said to be disproportionately small. In order to balance again the proportions, they wear pants that leave little play around the ankle, as in the case with our decent fellow.