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minding my manners

minding my manners

I realized at some point during yesterday's experiment that it isn't a stretch for me to be polite. Despite rumors to the contrary, I am generally a courteous, nice person. It's only when confronted by the rudeness and self-righteousness of others that my mild-mannered temperament goes into meltdown.

My observation that rudeness begets rudeness and my attempt to change that came into glaring play twice yesterday.

First, the pediatrician's office. It was crowded and stuffy and I had to sit on the floor next to Natalie. Across from me, on a cushioned bench, was a woman and her two daughters. I guessed the girls were about 10 and 13. They were sprawled out on the bench, taking up space that could have been used by mothers who were standing up, holding sick infants in their arms. Their mother never asked them to get up and make room. As a matter of fact, at one point she stretched her legs out over her daughter's lap and laid down.

On the wall in the waiting room is a very large frame containing holiday pictures of a good portion of the patients of this pediatrician. The rude girls stood in front of this frame for a while, pointing to various pictures and laughing out loud. They were making fun of almost every child in those pictures. At one point, they called the mother over. They were snorting they were laughing so hard. Oh my god, that girl is hideous! And then, Eww, look at the face on this one, she looks retarded! And then the mother: How embarrassing, I would never send my kids picture in if they looked like this!

Normally in this situation I would have said something like Are there no mirrors in your house? I would have then pointed to the younger girl and said your fat is sticking out of your shirt, you know. Or maybe I would have pointed to the older girl and said have you heard of Oxy-5? Or maybe I would have just punched the mother in the face.

Instead I said nothing. Which really defeated the purpose of my experiment. I wanted to confront rudeness with kindness, but I could think of nothing to say in this situation. I just silently wished that whatever the girls were in the doctor's office for would turn out to be something that would cause their face to disfigure. So even though I didn't match their behavior with rude comments of my own, I still lost.

Next was on the parkway, on the way to the orthopedist. The speed limit is 55. Do people understand that there is a minimum speed also? That it is as illegal to drive too slow on the parkway as it is to drive too fast?

We were in the right lane as our exit was approaching. Traffic slowed to a crawl. Two cars ahead of me was a station wagon that was traveling at about 20 miles per hour. People were beeping and cursing and tailgating. He would not go any faster. Finally, I was able to get around him. I wasn't going to give him the finger or curse at him or anything. I just wanted to get a look at what kind of person drove that slow on the parkway. When I turned my head, I saw the gray hair of an older man in the driver's seat. I couldn't see the rest of his face because the driver was holding up a cardboard sign that read Get off my back, you prick!. Apparently he drives this slow all the time. And he thinks it is his right to do so. I resisted the urge to swerve into his lane and kill him. I resisted the urge to roll down my window and throw a water bottle at him. Instead, as I passed him by, I smiled and waved to him. I don't know what his reaction was, as I had left him in the dust, but I do know I felt a little better than I would have had I spent fifteen seconds screaming at a person who didn't care if he got yelled at.

The rest of the day went pretty much the same. I smiled at rude cashiers. I gave thumbs up to people who cut me off. I was pleasant to a telemarketer. I answered my mother's snide remarks with charm and sweetness. Not one outburst. Not one rude comment uttered from my mouth the entire day. In the end, was it worth it? Not one person smiled back at me or met my kindness with their own. On the other hand, I didn't get into any arguments or experience any road rage or waste time arguing with someone who wasn't really listening to me. I didn't add to the rudeness quotient of the world. In the huge negative energy cloud that hangs over this earth, none of that black energy was mine yesterday. So in that event, perhaps it was worth it. The fact that my kids saw me reacting in a positive manner to negative situations was also a bonus, if not totally confusing for them.

I went to bed at 9:00 last night. Being nice is exhausting.


Good for you. You certainly took "a Path with Heart " (some of you may know the book of the same name by Jack Kornfield).

Those doctors office girls are saddening. I wonder what Julie Andrews would have said to them. There's your acronym for politely addressing every situation - WWJAS?

The words "rudeness quotient" stick in my mind as a useful concept.

Well done. The main question is, do YOU feel better for it? I've tried something similar, with much the same outcome, but I took a lot of comfort from the fact that I had acted 'properly'.
(Like the "rudeness quotient" concept as well!)

I usually try to be polite and considerate, often simply because I'm a physical coward but I also do believe it's important. This weekend I will do it consciously and stay on the lookout for rudeness to counter with politeness, and report back on Monday.

I guess I was raised to be very polite and nice to everyone, but sometimes that really backfires. People take advantage of you. I've learned that it's only if I let them though, so it's hardened me. Too bad.

Sounds like a new project's starting - Project Politeness?

“Loud” politeness can also work. Like for the doctor’s office, when The Rude Stupid People were hogging the seats, and women with babies had to stand? In your most ingratiatingly polite Julie Andrews, and at a volume where everyone else cannot avoid hearing:

“I’m so terribly sorry to bother you, and I know you&8217;re busy with your own dear darlings and probably just didn’t notice this — but there are a lot of women here who really need to sit down while they’re waiting. Would you please sit up and make some room for them? That would be great, thank you.”

Works even better if you can sheperd one of the standing people over at the same time as you’re talking. One doesn’t have to be rude to create a scene... :)

I can see your kids now. "What did you do with our mother?"

Anyway, what Miriam said. There are tonnes of ways to stand up for yourself politely while making a point. And then you can use karmic law to determine if you should in fact keep on being polite to them or if that would be like beating your head on the brick wall of their incurable rudeness. :)

Being nice to angry people is my hobby.

I'm pleased to see the results of your experiment were satisfactory. I agree with Miriam and Pixelfish that a firm, but polite response to the lady in the doctor's office would have been appropriate.

I believe Miriam's comment, about the encounter being loud enough to be heard by everyone, would have been perceived as hostile, and would not have the desired affect. The same words, uttered more privately, would probably have done the trick.

Maybe it works a little better in the south - you can still shame people with niceness down here. Also when you grow up with adults teaching you how to be polite - you also learn a technique on the side - I think of it as assertive politeness. Think of it as - well, you know how some people get in your face with rudeness? It works like that. Involves getting within a few feet of the rude person, making eye contact, asking them politely to explain their behavior and then waiting and listening. Freaks people out bigtime. I have to be in the right mood to do this but it is incredibly satisfying. Oh and I don't advise guys to try this - I think that might be dangerous. Works well for us chicks. People don't tend to punch women in the face quite as readily. Plus they're unsure whether I'm serious or being obnoxious, and irony is lost on most rude people.

holding up a cardboard sign that read Get off my back, you prick!.

All bullshit aside, this guy is my personal hero.

However I loved your reaction. Sweet.

Rude people suck ass.

Kevin, he would be my hero, too had he been going the speed limit and people were on his ass. But he was going 20mph on the parkway. That is downright dangerous. Not to mention illegal.

you don't always see the good you do. it may have changed someone's day.