Rude, thoughtless, inconsiderate behavior has become a national epidemic that reflects badly on each of us as individuals and collectively as a society.
I realize that it is all but impossible to explore the sad state of discourtesy in America without sounding like a grumpy old man, but it’s pretty bad. It was brought home to me recently while watching Gran Torino, the Clint Eastwood movie. Eastwood, in fact, plays a grumpy old man who is disgusted by and disconnected with his poorly behaved grandchildren. You know kids like these, we all do. But the real kicker was the crude, tough-talking, and mindless young gang-bangers in the film who were devoid of even a sliver of civil behavior. Sure, it’s only a movie, but just go to a mall and look around; that kind of attitude and behavior is the norm, not the exception.
Once I was at a gas station in Walnut Creek putting air in my tires when a woman pulled up next to my car to wait her turn. I offered to take care of her car when I was finished. She declined, but I insisted. “My mother would kill me if I didn’t do this for you,” I told her. I checked her tires for air and then headed off to work. When I told the story to a colleague at the office he mockingly told me, “You’re in California now, you need to knock that polite stuff off.” “So if that had been your wife at that gas station,” I shot back, “I should have just let her put air in her own tires?” I was flabbergasted. This jaw-dropping piece of advice was not coming, after all, from some saggy-panted, mall-roaming teenager who might not know better, but from a 50-year-old college-educated professional who should.
Rude is wrong and it’s everywhere.
It’s like Thunder Dome out on the roads. Drivers act like savages, cutting people off, speeding and swerving in and out of traffic without any consideration of the risk: as if lives are not actually on the line.
People blather away at the top of their lungs on cell phones while you’re trying to enjoy a meal or hoping for a few relaxing moments having your hair styled. Clerks look at you with contempt when you need help in a store, while many customers treat those same clerks like they are lower life forms who don’t deserve a ‘please’ or a ‘thank you’.
Spend a few minutes watching a public entry and see how many men fail to hold the door for a lady. I have literally seen women with stunned, almost confused, expressions on their faces when I’ve held the door to let them pass through first. Recently at work, I caught the door for a female colleague and as she passed by she remarked, “You are such a gentleman.” What struck me at that moment is that to so many people nowadays, a simple gesture like holding a door for a woman is something noteworthy instead of the basic expectation of courtesy.
On the flip side, I’ve had more than my share of recipients of that ordinary gesture who have passed right by without even the slightest acknowledgement. Not to say that one should expect anything in return, one should not by any means, but civility is a two-way street. We all need to try.
And while basic manners have devolved into a pleasant surprise, and anti-social behavior has become so commonplace that we barely take notice, wanton violence is now such an everyday occurrence that we are scarcely fazed anymore. A man dressed as Santa shoots an 8-year-old relative in the face then goes on a killing spree at a family Christmas party in Southern California. In a Philadelphia theater, a man is so bothered by two people talking during a movie that he shoots one of them in the arm then sits back to watch the rest of the film. In Alabama, some nut kills ten people for reasons that are still not clear. Shocking, horrifying violence makes the headlines for a day or two and then quickly fades from the news and from our national consciousness. So it is no wonder we can’t seem to get too worked up anymore over something as non-lethal as ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.
What’s going on? How have we gone so far down this road that a polite word or a common courtesy is considered refreshing? The lack of it in our daily routines has hardened us, desensitized us, and devalued us. Rudeness and thoughtlessness coarsens our spirit and degrades our society. It’s nice to be nice and it makes a difference in small ways and in big ones too.
I am not sure how we can reverse the downward spiral of poor behavior that has become so prevalent, but What Really Matters is that we try on a daily basis to treat others, as the Golden Rule instructs, as we wish to be treated. Pretty simple, really.
Allow me, please… after you.