May 4th, 2006

Living In Polite Society

I’ve realized something lately. Maybe it’s my advanced age (I’m almost 34!) but I’ve noticed that people aren’t very polite to each other any more.

I guess it’s possible a couple of other things could be true:

1) People never were polite to each other
2) I’m just now noticing what people do

It is, of course, more noticeable online. With the anonymity the Internet affords (identity thieves be hanged!), people seem to more freely be impolite. Not having to look someone in the face and say “Your opinions, desires, and beliefs don’t mean a hill of beans to me” makes it easier to say things like that. It becomes natural to use sarcasm and nastiness to deal with everything.

It seems that a lot of it gets filed under “my right to free speech” or “I’m being real.” Sadly, that last one is becoming more and more true, I think – impoliteness is how people are becoming.

See, it’s easy to blame the anonymity of the Web for some of the lack of politeness, but it’s spilling out into the “real world.” Frankly, I think that’s part of the problem, that separation, that thinking that certain behavior is fine in certain contexts. We forget that the people we deal with in email, in forums, and on instant messaging are real people. I wonder if it’s because we’re reading their words rather than hearing them? We react differently to the written word than to the spoken, and often one does not translate well to the other.

It’s no excuse. Our desire to be hip or funny or sarcastically observant comes at the expense of treating others poorly. When “I have a right to say what I want!” becomes more important than “I want to do my part to make it easier for us all to co-exist” and “Being ‘real’” becomes more important than “being polite,” it’s no wonder we have road rage, people who sue at the drop of a hat, and teenagers wearing rude T-shirts.

Lack of politeness boils down to lack of respect, really. If, in response to your stated opinion, I respond with “That’s stupid and anyone who believes that is stupid and probably ugly” what I’m really saying is “You’re not important to me because you’re different than me.”

“But,” you say, “people need to earn my respect!” Long-term respect, sure. But that general respect for others, a respect for life because its life, should be as natural as breathing. Because you’re a person I should have enough respect for you to at the very least be able to listen to you without calling you names. Will I agree with everything you say? Not likely. You won’t agree with me, either. But “We can agree to disagree” goes a lot farther towards fomenting harmony than “You jerkwad idiot monkey-brain.” How we treat others is often more important than if we agree with them.

Bottom line, it’s ego: “My opinion matters more than yours.” What makes you better than someone else? Your incredible intellect? Your amazing good looks? Your ability to walk and chew gum at the same time? Where’d you get all those things? You had nothing to do with the gifts you were given by being alive so stop pretending you did. Sure, you might have studied or practiced something to get better at it, but did you create your brain and give it the ability to learn new things? Nope, you sure didn’t. And whether you believe you were given those abilities and gifts by God or whether you believe mankind evolved itself up to the point where they happen naturally with every new life, you didn’t have anything to do with it either way. I’m no better than you and you’re no better than the last person you ridiculed.

Being impolite and disrespectful has another effect: it causes the person you ridiculed to build walls. Different people build different walls – some build walls of further disrespect and sarcasm and react by cutting the other person down and escalating the hate (esca-hating?). Some build walls of silence and react by not saying anything. Some build walls of deafness and react by not listening. Closing oneself in away from others is a sure path to not growing as a person anymore. If all we’ll ever know is what we already know, there’s no chance of growth.

In the last couple of years, I’ve met and become friends with many different types of people with many different types of personalities. It’s taken constant work on my part and on theirs to deal with the differences. I grew up in an environment made up of people with whom I shared belief systems. Being around others who don’t share that system has been scary, enlightening, and affirming all at the same time. The more I see other beliefs, the more it helps me understand my own. On their part, they’ve had to come to understand that “religious” doesn’t mean “hate-filled bigot.” Being friends or even being polite doesn’t mean you automatically accept what they believe, but understanding that they DO have different beliefs is important.

You’ve heard the phrase “Nobody’s perfect”? I think that’s a hope-filled phrase rather than a despair-filled one. We all have faults and there’s actually a pretty big chance that someone else is going through the exact same thing we are. If someone else can do well and be okay in spite of whatever that is, there’s hope for us. Realizing that we’re all more alike than we like to think is a part of growing up and a part of realizing how the world around us works.

This has been kind of meandering and probably not as concise and boiled down as it could be, but my basic point is that we should treat other people with more respect. From waiters to coworkers to random people we see in Target, be polite. If you think they’re an idiot, you don’t have to say so.

Of course, this is all my own opinion.

4 Comments on “Living In Polite Society”

  1. the obscure says:

    So let's leave it alone,
    Cause we can't see eye to eye.
    There ain't no good guys,
    There aint no bad guys,
    There's only you and me and
    We just disagree.

  2. Meags says:

    Man, I agree with you so much. I can't count the amount of times I've felt like my opinion or thoughts don't matter and it all boils down to respect. Of course we are all guilty of making someone feel inadequate but I don't think it should be a constant behaviour. Sigh.

  3. HorizonPurple says:

    Taking you and I as an example, Mupalup, on paper you couldn't get two more different people (if you boil everything down to core beliefs I mean, and if you're boiling stuff you might as well boil that). Background, politics, religion. By rights we should be clawing each others eyes outat every chance.
    We don't and you know why? Is is respect? Is it friendship? No. it's me lulling you into a false sense of security before I leap out of a box and claw you in the eyes.

  4. wew says:

    It's just treating someone the way you prefer they treat you, right?!
    Have you also noticed that many people refuse to look you in the eye . . . Walking through an airport, in a store, on an elevator, in a hospital, etc. . . . look someone in the eye or at least their face and smile. Try it; you might like it. And change the world one person at a time. Pay it back, right . . .

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