10/05/2011

Excuse Me



A friend emailed me recently an article on work place bullying. This began a brief correspondence on social etiquette, on how it is sorely lacking in society these days.
It seems to be a lost art form. Could it be people are just too lazy to be courteous or just too insensitive to others feelings?

I am not sure there are any easy answers. For years, psychologists were convinced that the lack of compassion that was created in society was due to playing excessive video games. With the onset of extreme violence in these popular new video games on the market, this seemed the main culprit for explaining the increased incidence of insensitivity in society to others feelings and general meanness. This was becoming prevalent in schools and in our workplaces.

Not to be left in the dark and missing out on the popularity of this movement towards ‘the dark side’, movie producers revved up the violence in movies kicking it up a notch to help get ticket sales up. It worked well and with the onset of higher tickets sales, the new explanation for violence in the streets and the general impoliteness that seemed to be hitting our nation was, of course, explained away as being due, in part, to the movie industry. The answer to address this growing concern was perhaps if we rated movies with censorship we could perhaps dissuade folks from being violent and make them care more about being nice. Did anyone really think that would work?

The sad fact is that these behaviors are learned and practiced from the earliest of ages and long before we even venture out to the movies or play a video game. My grandchildren are barely 4 years old and two of them already say “please” or they do not get what they want. If “thank you” is not audibly heard, there is hell to pay, so to speak. Their parents want their manners intact now, and feel the responsibility intensely to teach and reinforce them.

The changes in society in how we interact with each other, as our society has become so desensitized towards violence, is affecting our interpersonal communication daily. The way we meet and greet strangers on the street, interact with the store clerk waiting on us and yes, the way we talk to a service representative trying to address an issue for us. This should be paramount to who we are, our character, how we communicate with strangers. How we communicate says who we are, the type of person we are, and reflects our belief system.

As adults, we are role models for the younger generation also. We are responsible, all of us, for our day to day interactions. Do we give others,
even in anger, the benefit of the doubt or are we ready to pull out a laundry list of words we should not say in church, much less to a stranger or co worker, in the heat of a moment?


Polite implies good social conduct. It is something that parents are supposed to be teaching early on in the home. This lesson is continued in early childhood to elementary school outside of the home. This mentality should carry over into adulthood easily and naturally. Somewhere something is amiss. And it really needs to be fixed. The result is classic bullying without any sense of consciousness about what is wrong with the behavior and any feeling of accountability. Too many times people just do not feel their comments warrant an apology or a need for behavioral modification.

If someone feels their conduct is acceptable and does not need to change, convincing them otherwise is challenging. Many times they feel their attitude and reactions to others have served them well in the past so they see no reason to make an adjustment. It is always ‘the other person’s problem’, not theirs. And then the cycle continues, a few people being continually rude and inconsiderate making others around them uncomfortable, annoyed and feeling, at times, bullied due to their insensitivity.

Adding to the mix is the social media resources available to us today,face book, twitter and my space. These medias were meant to help people stay connected in a busy world with never enough time. Yet, something that was meant to take technology and move things forward and served to move them back in some ways. People are finding new ways to hurt and harass each other. Cyber bullying. Wow, a new way to be impolite to others. You can now be an even bigger coward by remaining faceless and spreading nasty rude comments about people through tests and anonymous posts on these medias to upset someone. This not only serves no redeeming value to society, it was not the intended purpose whatsoever for the media that was developed.

When I was a kid, getting a mean note from a girlfriend was emotional but at least the rift was confined to me and her. Today, that little spat can be read by literally millions of folks all over the globe if the opposing side is impolite and has no social consciousness. Often times, one never knows until one is in conflict with someone what their true character truly consists of and then it can be too late. This badgering harassment through media will continue to be addressed by lawmakers and continue to cost tax payers money until it can be stopped or monitored in some fashion. Without threats of accountability, some people will stop at nothing to hurt others. It is like a cave man mentality that arises even now in our present day century with microwave ovens! What a shame this alone costs tax payers and Americans thousands of dollars in mental health issues and work performance issues.

One evening, while flipping through Cable channels, I come across some reality program called Charm School. Apparently regular people that had been thrown off other reality dating shows were now given the opportunity to be on this show. The ones that were chosen were picked due to their lack of social graces. They were being taught how to be courtesy, or as the title implies, charming. Given the lack of etiquette many of them had, that was going to take more than one television show with Sharon Osborne to fix their issues. The show I saw that night, the women were loud speaking foul language, obnoxious, and rude. I was amazed they had made it on a television show with such a lack of manners so attributed it to possible mediocre acting on their the part for the show as if they were just rude, aka uncharming.

A few weeks later, while out with some friends, I noticed some of the people seated around us. It is one thing to be loud and having a good time, but it is entirely something else to be rude and obnoxious to your waiter or to others seated within your party or other diners nearby. I began to see that some of what I saw on that Charmed School show on television really does occur in clubs these days. I must have missed it because I am usually too busy having fun with my friends to notice. Plus I feel blessed I have friends that have good manners! I guess if they don’t, they are not on my list of people I prefer to hang out with and I am not on theirs either!

I subscribe to that simple rule I learned in children’s bible class and then again in school, the Golden Rule. “Treat others like you would like to be treated.” What a simple rule, so easy to follow too. If society, as a whole, practiced it more readily, how many children would not be bullied and therefore saved from being ridiculed daily? How many less teens would take their lives? How many folks would not feel disheartened on the job by peers being rude? I agree with my friend, all it takes is just being a little more polite to make a huge difference. You should try it sometime. See for yourself.

Oh and spread the good news. Being polite really does pay dividends, not just for you, but for us all!

When society wins, we all do, immeasurably.
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