Recently, someone asked the question How do I get a person selling newspapers at a subway station to stop approaching me?. The question is about someone who feels uncomfortable giving someone a high-five at a subway station:

So for a year I reluctantly gave high-fives and acted like I was happy about it. This person looks like a cunning criminal type, I'm surprised people are so stupid to stop and waste their time with this person, but I digress.

The answers the question received took different approaches to the question. One answer began with the sentence "Answer: I think you need professional guidance and help." Another answer took the OP's fear at face value, didn't question the fear, and gave the OP advice about how to resolve the situation. The other answers do something in the middle of the two.

I know that we've already discussed the issue of to what extent we should challenge the assumptions in questions in the meta question To what extent do we respect the OP's request?. But I think this recent question is an opportunity to revisit that meta post and discuss (1) whether the meta post still works for the site, and (2) how we should enforce any policy about this.

To what extent should answers challenge the assumptions of the question?


2 Answers 2


I think you're trying to apply that meta question/answer to this question when it doesn't actually relate in this case.

In my answer to "To what extent do we respect the OP's request?", I'm talking about people who have made a decision that affects themselves and we need users to avoid telling them that their decision is wrong when it does not relate to the question at hand.


  • If I've decided to be an omnivore, answers should not say "You're wrong to eat animal products" - and the inverse is true as well.

  • If I've decided to be (insert religious belief/non-belief), answers should not tell me "You're wrong to believe that, my religion/non-religion is the only correct one".

Deciding to be a specific religion or eat a specific diet or support a specific party or any other non-IPS decision - what you decide is generally going to be irrelevant to your question, so answers that argue with that decision are non-answers. We're only here to discuss Interpersonal Skills.

In this situation, I think that this would only be in conflict if someone answered the question saying:

Just give him a high five, he's only being friendly.

Regardless of why she's afraid of this man, she has decided that she does not wish to interact with him and that is her choice, we should respect it. As far as I can tell, while the answers may tell the OP that her fears are misplaced, none of them tell her to give him high fives. Every one seems to give guidance that comes down to "if you don't want to do it, don't do it".

Tycho's answer:

And if you don't feel comfortable don't give high-fives and don't stop to talk to him (and no eye contact). Just say you are in a hurry, avoid passing by him and/or if he follows you around or bothers you, speak with an officer.

apaul's answer:

If you're not interested in engaging with this person you could just keep walking, I'm sure many, if not most, people do.

Mari-Lou A's answer:

If you wish to be ignored, because you feel safer that way, then as you approach his patch, take out your smartphone and pretend you are conversing with this imaginary caller. You don't have to speak, you can simply nod and say “uh, huh” but make sure the vendor sees that you are busy.

Repeat this noninvasive action two or three times, and the vendor will (or should) understand your body language. If despite this he still approaches you, ignore him, look down on the sidewalk and continue walking. There is no need to exchange words if that makes you feel too uncomfortable.

No one is telling the OP to give him high fives.

In this case, I see the answers that either solely or in part mention that the OP's interpretation of their interpersonal interaction with someone else may be skewed is within the scope of this site. Much like our questions where the answer is "don't do that", we are doing due diligence in our answers to address what many people think is an overreaction.

That being said, I think that it is important to note what Shog wrote in his answer to another meta question:

First off, let's get one thing out of the way: no one asking questions here is objective.

I don't mean that in some vague "true objectivity is impossible" sense; rather, as a practical concern we have to assume that if you're coming here for advice then you're stuck on finding an effective way to communicate in some situation - that's your perspective, that's what drives your question, and the job of folks answering is to help you improve your understanding in such a way that you're able to resolve the problem.

The most important part of this as it relates to this question is the last clause:

the job of folks answering is to help you improve your understanding in such a way that you're able to resolve the problem.

Telling someone the answer they want to hear is not what we're here for. I think that the answers to this question - What to do with questions about "getting around" peoples' boundaries / autonomy - apply here, too. If someone has a skewed interpretation of the people they interact with on a regular basis, particularly when based on interactions with people other than the person they're asking about, I think it's fair to let them know that they may not be reacting to the situation appropriately. Whether others agree will be borne out in the votes.

That said, we are not here to diagnose people. While telling someone that they may benefit from communicating with a therapist may be part of a complete answer to a question like this, the answer should definitely also address the interpersonal interaction at hand.

Here is a solution to your immediate problem with this street vendor ____. This should address it but it seems like your concerns about being attacked (based on the information you have chosen to share with us) are misplaced and it might help you to talk about it with a professional.

I think that "part of helping someone improve their understanding" is pointing out that your fears may be negatively affecting your interactions with others.

  • +1 for a really strong answer @Catija! I am not writing an answer here because you have said all that I would have written in my answer. Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 19:03

I think this question should not have been answered at all. It should have been put-on-hold until the OP had given us more information to back up her assumption that this person was dangerous.

The question started as what to me read like a rant in disguise (see the question's revision history), with lot's of rude language and sentences that read like she was just venting.

The assumption that 'this vendor is dangerous' is challenged in comments, asking for more clarification from OP as to what makes her think this person is dangerous. At this point, I vtc'ed as 'unclear what you're asking' because that's what an (in my opinion) similar question was put on hold for.

If we honor the OP's request, then based on the comments she made, this might even need to be closed as off-topic/needs professional help. OP comes across as extremely fearful of everything in her comments and question: Fear of the police, fear of acid attacks, fear of this newsvendor, basically a fear of all men coming from what she states as 'her cultural background' even though she is a '2nd generation' American.

If we don't honor the premise, then, in my opinion, the question is just a duplicate of Appropriate ways to dismiss street vendors, since that is what OP is trying to do (albeit she feels uncomfortable when approached by one).

  • 1
    Very perceptive answer which is equally an answer to your linked recent related meta question whether these Q's must be closed. May I remind you of your 'how to deal with a developmentally challenged man on the train' question in which you were careful to present your problem with a lot of objective reasons, unlike the OP in the newspaper vendor question. If the question is too subjective to be answered constructively then members should vote to close until OP presents a much better argument. Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 19:27

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