DEAR MISS MANNERS: The other day on the train, I was standing when a gentleman with a cane came on and was clearly looking around for someone to give up their seat.
Unfortunately, most seated people were lost in their books, phones or tablets. I have been similarly caught up in my device in the past, only to feel bad later when I realized that someone needed the seat, which I would have happily given up if I had known. It's possible some other seat occupiers would have felt similarly.
Would it have been appropriate to tap a seated person on the shoulder to alert them?
GENTLE READER: If you do, prepare to be rebuffed -- if not by the seated patrons, then by the cane-wielding gentleman, who may rudely lecture you on your presumption in assuming that he is old, disabled or both.
It would be safer, Miss Manners advises, to find something that you can do yourself, and to suggest it in a tone that will be overheard by your fellow commuters. This can be an offer to hold any encumbering items -- though not, presumably, the cane.