Conversation on a train

When I was taking the train home a few days ago, I sat opposite to an about 17 year old guy and – I guess so at least – his mother. Opposite to them and thus next to me sat an exchange student who seemed to stay with the guy for the time of her exchange. They guy did not seem to be the best at making small talk, because they were discussing in quite a harsh way.

They were talking about a thought experiment where you had two people, one was handed 20 Euros and then that person could decide how much of that money the other person would get – the choosing person would keep the rest. The mother and her son argued that everyone would always keep the whole 20 Euros, and even if there was someone who would not that would still not say anything about his/her character or how (s)he would act in a similar situation in the real world, simply because following them, there was no situation in real life that resembled the one in the thought experiment the slightest. The exchange student tried to argue against them saying that the thought experiment was not useless – but she struggled with the language and was not capable of forming her thoughts into strong arguments as she kept explaining them in an abstract way where she had to stop every few words to search for the right vocabulary. The mother and the son on the other hand were repeating themselves, not even really listening to her I felt, compensating their lack of arguments with volume which intimidated the exchange student apparently, although she kept trying to argue against them.

That was the situation around me. I was listening to music on my headphones, but the music was quiet enough to hear what they were talking. And I felt awful for the exchange student next to me who was getting rolled over by the strength of mother and son. Now I don’t want to say either opinion was wrong or right, it was the way they argued against her that made me feel bad. And I thought about whether I should say something or not. On the one hand, it obviously was none of my business what they were talking about or how they did that – I only were there by chance after all, they could just as well have sat down anywhere else on the train or taken a different train. On the other hand, I felt like the mother and her son made the exchange student feel bad for what she thought about that experiment – and I think her opinion was not that absurd that it could somehow probably make up for their behavior – and I really would have liked to help and show her that her thoughts were not stupid like the other two said they were.

I still am unsure whether it was right to stay silent or whether it would have been better to say something, but I still think about that situation, although it only lasted for about ten minutes and since then a week has passed.

What would you have done? Would you have kept silent or spoken up – or would you not even have thought about them and just ignored them?

-Ben