Has Politeness Become Passé? 

- Joellen Monson

Never before have the tools of intimidation, selfishness and disregard for others been promoted as the norm, as being cool, as being the acceptable way to behave toward one another. “In your face” unfortunately, is the perfect expression to describe the way social interactions are experienced by people today. These attitudes lead to much of the tensions people are experiencing in their lives. Our face takes in information through our eyes and our ears. Haven’t you felt your personal body space invaded when a stranger stood too close to you in a waiting line? You know that edgy feeling you get when someone rudely shoves their face close to yours to emphasize a point. Our bodies feel the intrusion whenever someone is talking too loudly or playing games or music at deafening levels. These are all attempts to draw attention to themselves or to dominate us. 

The workplace attitudes of struggling to get ahead, squeaky wheel gets the attention, dog eat dog world that adults experience have oozed over into attitudes and behaviors at home. Most people may not realize what they are teaching their children when they act this way. Or even worse they may have the misguided notion that they are providing the kids with tools for dealing with the world of rudeness (by being ruder first).

 Even if we may have been aware enough to refrain from this shift in attitudes ourselves, our children are bombarded by it through the media. Yes, these same attitudes are celebrated as commonplace on TV, in newspapers with surly, cynical comics characters and in “kids” movies. Advertisers and media executive’s biases toward disrespectful and rude behaviors are reflected in much of what many people unknowingly allow their children to watch. Examples of this are the wisecracking “Rug Rats” cartoons, or any number of movies with children in them who are encouraged to be indulgent, disrespectful and use crude language. Prime examples are “Big Daddy” and “South Park”. Based on content, these movies are actually being made for late adolescents and immature adults.

A recent movie, “Blast from the Past” had wonderfully important lessons to illustrate just how rude our society has become. Through great humor and delightful acting the commentary on our behaviors was superbly emphasized. Unfortunately, there were some scenes, which were entirely inappropriate for children that they should not have seen it. This adult movie could have easily been made watchable by children through the use of subtler inferences to today’s underbelly and inappropriate language. However, one of its most valuable lessons involves two characters discussing manners. One notes that a rule of politeness is making those around you feel comfortable. Most of us could use reminding of that lesson. The rule nowadays seems to be trying to make anyone around you as uncomfortable as possible, often through “ignor”ance and inconsideration.

So this brings us back to home. How does your child treat you? Do they thank you for taking them to extracurricular activities? Are they grateful that you’re the leader of an activity? Is your participation noticed by the children (or even school representatives) when you help out at school.? Is it appreciated when you loan that extra few bucks for a special toy they’ve been saving toward? Are their TV shows or games so loud you can barely hear yourself think? What are we teaching them?

The way we insist we’re treated sets the tone for how our children will behave toward us and others in their lives. It also sets the tone for how they will expect others to treat them. This training begins early and it’s never too late to start. Yes, giving and receiving good behavior is a matter of SELF-ESTEEM. It involves feeling good enough about yourself that you know you deserve to be acknowledged for your acts of kindness. Courtesy shows respect for others and since it is a positive interaction it helps promote in-kind actions. If you do not appreciate being spoken to in a rude manner then speak up and let that person know. We have become uncomfortable with standing up for ourselves. This is reflected in HOW we assert ourselves. With this decrease in manners as an underpinning to assert our rights to be treated well many people only feel comfortable standing up for themselves when it’s gone too far. They wait until they are mad enough that they can’t stand it anymore. This approach has taken the form of snide remarks, aggressive tones and generally inappropriate, aggressive “in your face” behaviors.

Want a solution? Don’t wait until you are really upset to speak up for yourself! Don’t try to be so subtle when you do speak up that the person can’t figure out what exactly is the problem. Be calm, talk about the issue when it first appears and be clear about the behavior. Talk in terms of specifics in a non- accusing way. For example, if you are feeling unappreciated for all the school fieldtrip driving you do, don’t just stop volunteering with the hope that someone will get the idea that you’re mad and come to you with apologies. Instead, start with the kids in your car…”Hey kids, did you remember to thank your driver?” Don’t let yourself get stuck in that old rut of “If I have to remind them it doesn’t count!” NONSENSE! You deserve thanks and they obviously still need help remembering! Don’t forget to thank the children too for the things that they do which you appreciate. It’s a two way street when in comes to respect.

A thank you is a way of letting others know that you NOTICED. You noticed they did something nice, you noticed they remembered what they were supposed to do or say. And the best thing about a thank you and being polite in general is that it is CONTAGEOUS! It makes us feel good and we can pass that on to others. Hey, who knows maybe we can all make good manners fashionable again!