Books were strewn on the floor. Books were left on the armchairs. And books on some of the shelves were in disarray. The place was simply in a mess.

I am not talking about…

…my house. I am referring to one of the biggest bookshops in town – Borders. Although I visit the bookshop only occasionally, I have never failed to observe this phenomenon.

The bookshop assistants would tidy up the place. And presto! The next instant the books would be back on the floor or armchairs, especially when the place is crowded.

The bookshop assistants seem to be fighting a losing battle against inconsiderate browsers, some of whom treat Borders like a library while others think they own the place.

It is common to see some of these customers pick up a stack of books, look through them casually in the comfortable armchair and nonchalantly take notes. Once done, they leave the books on the floor, put their bags on the armchair to “book”it and disappear.

In a short while, they are back with another stack.

There are parents who bring their children to the bookshop and let them run around. The books get handled roughly and trampled on.

What kind of behaviour is the parents cultivating in their children?

It certainly takes all types of people to make up the world – the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good are those always ready with a helping hand.

The bad include criminals, terrorists and those whose life mission is to inflict misery. The ugly are those who think about themselves and their needs without any consideration for others.

It is not necessarily a crime to be ugly. At best, we can contain the ugly by making some of their misconduct punishable by law. Or, we can collectively scorn their behaviour.

But it looks like we will have to learn to live with the ugly in our midst – otherwise, we will die very quickly of anger, stress and frustration.

Why let those ugly people eat at you, in all those ugly situations that you have to face daily? And from my experience, I don’t see how we can avoid them – they are everywhere.

The other day, I took a ride on the MRT. It was quite crowded. Yet there was this guy who was seated with his legs stuck out, an obstacle to other commuters. Another passenger was talking loudly on his phone while his friend was coughing into the faces of those who chose to stand in front of him.

Two “love birds” by the door were giggling and whispering sweet nothings, oblivious to other desperate passengers trying to get on or alight from the train.

At the shopping centre, many people thought my father was the doorman. Whenever he opened the door for my mother to wheel me in, the others would rush in or try to squeeze past, ignoring my presence. There was not even a word of “thanks”.

I have also had unpleasant encounters in the cinemas, libraries, food centres and many other places.

The problem is, some ugly people can become uglier if you give them attention. The Everitt Road saga is a good example. The recent accounts of noisy HDB neighbours in these Voices pages is another example.

When you confront your neighbour for being inconsiderate, what do you get? A neighbour who cannot wait to get even by getting on your nerves more. And if you leave things alone, the problem may or may not go away.

Sigh. What do we do? Accept the ugly and learn to tolerate their inconsiderate behaviour. It is not for their sake – it is for ours. We need to save our health and sanity.

Otherwise, we have to find a creative way to deal with the situation. Here is a story to ponder on:

Once upon a time, a group of boys was making a racket daily outside an old man’s house. Although he was incensed, he did not rant and rave at them.

He told them he would pay them $5 each if they could make more noise as he was enjoying it.

After two days, he said he was short of cash and asked if he could pay them $3 each instead. The boys agreed.

The next day, he told them he had no money and pleaded with them to help him as he could not bear it if the place was quiet.

One said: “No way. We are not coming here anymore. No money, no noise.”

(This entry can be found in TODAY of 22 March 2006)