The Case of Chivalry and the Handicap Button

My apartment building has 300 rooms filled with people under the age of 30. It has two sets of two doors. Each set has two silver square buttons, each with a blue wheelchair sign. I like them because they are low enough that I can tap them with my foot to open the door when my hands are full of important things, like my toast and coffee or my cell phone and a shopping bag. At least I have a code though. Many of the lazier residents push the button for the sheer thrill of walking through the door with their hands in their pockets. I have never seen anyone with a handicap use the doors’ handicap features.

Lately, I’ve noticed another use for the handicap buttons. It started off slowly, but then before I knew it, it was every day. Several times a day. As I would approach the doors, nearby males would tap the button for me. They ran ahead to do so, and as they pushed the button, they look up with pleased eyes, expecting gratitude. I say thank you, of course, but not without a raised brow.

They obviously latently recall some vague concept of chivalry and, with the push of a button, feel as though they have satisfied the knightly calling for civilized behavior. But does it count?

I tend to think there is something qualitatively better about opening the door and standing straight, smiling as a woman, or even another man, passes through. There is something in the physical exertion and slightly sacrificial gesture when holding the door that is simply void when pushing a button. I still say thank you, and it seems obvious to do so, as ,despite the inadequate substitution, they’ve saved me the trouble of opening the door for myself. It seems to be another example of the crimes of modernity, where a text replaces a visit, or a double tap replaces a warm hug to a far away friend. Sadly, in this face to face, human to human instance the button has conquered the hand.

By Morgan Schatzman
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