Another real life adventure:
In the morning I leave the condo, walk three blocks east then one block south and get to the platform for the train. Generally the only thing that delays that trek is if I catch a red light at any of the intersections I must cross. One morning last week it was something else.
As I exited the building and started east down the sidewalk there was a man crossing the street and then walking down the alley that bisects the block. I noticed he glanced over toward me, took a few more steps, then glanced toward me again. As I approached he turned and came back to the sidewalk.
He wore a wide-brimmed straw hat and tie-dyed t-shirt, and held a plastic bag with some green leafy vegetables poking out of the top, suggesting he'd just come from the market. "Excuse me," he said. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" I replied with slight apology that I had a train to catch. "That doesn't matter," he retorted with a noticeable twinge of annoyance. I wasn't blowing him off—well, not entirely—I did, in fact, have a train to catch. "I'm not weird," he continued.
"I didn't say you were," I noted, by this point committed to the conversation by default.
He went on to explain that he said "Good morning" to people to see what the reaction was. He paused, so I gave an "Uh, okay" in acknowledgment. Then he looked me in the eye with great intent and said "Good morning."
With that gauntlet thrown down I replied "Good morning" back, looking him square in the face and smiling.
"See? Wasn't that nice?" he started to say but I merely extended my hand and as we shook I said "You have a good day, sir." We then continued on our respective paths.
I didn't burst his perception of having made the world a better place by pointing out that the way he went about his task he essentially negated much of the "niceness" he sought by a) arrogantly dismissing what I had to do as less important than what he wanted to do; and b) having to explain what he was doing rather than just doing it. Had he simply walked up and said "Good morning" I would have happily said it back—as I would have done (and have done) with any person I passed on the street. But that would have only take a second or two and been, oh, you know, pleasant in an unqualified way.
When I got to the corner where I turn from east to south I saw the train already at the platform. It's entirely possible that even without the little sidewalk sidebar I would have missed it anyway, but then, maybe I would have caught it had the whole exchange only taken as long as a simple "Good morning" should take.
I have no illusions that by not calling him on the flaws of his task that I made the world a better place. However, I prefer to believe my condescension went unnoticed by this man, leaving him believing he'd made a difference. So never let it be said I didn't leave one person feeling better. Even if he was kind of a jerk about it.