A Conversation with Matthew Dons

Last weekend I met up with my buddy Matthew Dons at Osaka Castle. I have not seen him in a few years since I moved down here from Tokyo so it was great to catch up. We originally met nine years ago when we were both doing software community development in Tokyo (see BarCamp Tokyo 1, BarCamp Tokyo 2, BarCamp Yokohama). Matthew is an amazing community builder. He has been involved in many communities globally.

But now he has more important challenges to deal with. Matthew is fighting terminal cancer. If you would like to contribute to his fund please go here. If you would like to follow his YouTube videos please go here.

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No Phones!

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A while back on the way home from work I saw a young Japanese salaryman sitting in the courtesy seat at the end of the train — which is generally reserved for people with children, pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with an injury. That area is not really reserved for young strong guys, yet they help themselves there all the time. I suppose it’s fine when the train is empty, but many times you see elderly people standing and hanging on the straps while young guys sleep in the courtesy seats. Women usually don’t take these seats when others need them. It’s the guys who are the offenders. And the young ones at that.

Anyway, there he sat playing with his little phone right under the sign that clearly said no phones. I was standing next to him next to the door. Then at the next station, a really old guy walks into the train. He was like 90 or something. Very small. But he walked with purpose and was nicely dressed. The first thing he did was spot the younger dude slouching in the courtesy section gazing blindly at his fancy phone. So far this is a perfectly normal scene. I didn’t think anything of it beyond that. But then without warning the old guy winds up and punches the young guy on the shoulder! Wow! I had never seen such a display in my life! It was a nice shot, too. After the punch, the old guy pointed to the sign that says no phones. He did not say a word, though, probably because talking on Japanese trains is not considered polite — especially in the section with courtesy seats and no phones. But the young guy was unfazed by the attack. He just looked up and then went back to playing with his phone.

So, unbelievably, then the old guy steps back and — literally — braces himself and winds up and punches the young guy again! Harder this time! I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I’ve broken up many fights in my day but, seriously, at this age? The old guy kept pointing to the sign that said no phones. Finally, after that second shot, the young guy put his freaking phone away and just closed his eyes and sat there. The old man sat directly across from his prey and glared. At the next station the young guy got up and walked out of the train.

I think about that old guy from time to time. His actions were unnecessarily aggressive, obviously, because one good angry shove from the younger man in retaliation could have easily ended the old man’s life. You just never know the internal circumstances someone else is experiencing at any given moment, especially someone you don’t know out on a public train. So, I wouldn’t recommend that centenarians go around beating up younger guys breaking the rules. However, I do admire his self-confidence, I must admit. So many times in this word we defer. We look away. We let infractions pass — especially intrusions in our own space. And probably most of us regret the fact that we never spoke up, we never asserted ourselves when we had the chance to. Well, in this case, an old man on a train was certainly having none of that.