Dear Annie: The other day, I was working from a cafe close to my house. As I sat there for a few hours, I saw a number of men spitting on the sidewalk as they passed by. Men in dirty clothes, men in fancy suits, young men, old men -- it seems to be a trait shared by all types of men. Fond as I am of finding and cultivating common connections between humans, I find this habit disgusting. Why is it that men choose to spit in public so often? Am I the only one who notices this? And what should I do if I see another drooling delinquent? -- Wondering Woman
Dear Wondering Woman: You're in good company in your disgust. After his first visit to America, Charles Dickens lamented the "offensive and sickening" sight of men who "(spat) incessantly." In Dickens' time, chewing tobacco was mostly to blame for the great expectorations. Nowadays, there's no definitive explanation. Boise State sociology professor Robert McCarl says it most likely has to do with male posturing. It does seem that this issue is socio-cultural and not biological, as there's no evidence that men produce more saliva than women.
I'm sure I'll hear from a few people with their takes. In the meantime, if you see a "drooling delinquent," you might offer him (or her!) a tissue.
Dear Annie: I have never been more compelled to write than after reading your recent response to "P.U.," the person concerned about a co-worker's bad hygiene. In your response, you indicated that the co-worker's mental health is not "P.U.'s" business. Based on the co-worker's reported outburst when confronted and information from his wife that he was "off his medication," I strongly believe it is not only "P.U.'s" business but his obligation to report his observations to management. Too often, these early signs of potential violence are missed and, as recent events around the country show, workplace tragedy follows. I respectfully think you missed the mark on this one. -- See Something, Say Something
Dear See Something, Say Something: Though "P.U." said he'd already approached management to no avail, I should not have left it at that. You're right that the situation is potentially dangerous and should be addressed with urgency.
Approaching the topic of another person's mental health requires a great deal of care, especially if that person is an employee or colleague. And you should be careful not to engage in workplace discrimination based on mental illness -- not only because that would be unethical but also because it's prohibited in the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you are worried about a co-worker's mental health, you can and should intervene, for everyone's safety. Implore human resources to enlist some outside help. The following letter writer sheds more light on options.
Dear Annie: "P.U.'s" manager is ineffective. He should mandate an employee assistance program to provide counseling and clearance before the man is allowed back to work. Most states require employee assistance program agencies, but sadly they are underutilized. In this program, a mental health counselor would decide whether the man is a threat to himself or others.
Step two would be to notify the local authorities of concerns of violence so they could determine whether he's a threat. -- Prevent Tragedy
Dear Prevent Tragedy: Thank you for the helpful information on employee assistance programs. I'd like to second your advice to contact the authorities if someone seems like a threat to his own or others' safety.