Monday, July 9, 2012

Dealing with Rudeness

For a word of only four letters, "rude" has more than its share of meanings, ranging from in-your-face aggressiveness to insults so subtle they don't hit you until hours later. But the source of rudeness is always the same: a simple lack of courtesy and respect. A speeder tailgates you on the freeway. An acquaintance asks about your salary. A man you've just met makes suggestive remarks about your figure. The woman at the cash register fails to even acknowledge your presence, much less say "thank you." On the surface these acts are very different, but at bottom they all qualify as rude.

Aggressive rudeness. Intentional, no-holds-barred, no-bones-about-it rudeness is designed to punish you for something you've done (you're screamed at after accidentally bumping into a passerby). to put you in your place (a coworker unfairly criticizes you for "thinking you're so smart"), or to exact revenge (on the road, you're purposely slowed down by a driver who feels you cut him off).

Casual rudeness.  Often unconscious on the part of those who practice it, casual rudeness isn't directed at you personally but drives you crazy nonetheless. Falling into this category are such acts as disturbing the peace by loudly yakking away on a cell phone, rushing from the back of a line to the front of the newly opened one, and blocking a busy sidewalk by standing smack-dab in the middle to chat with friends. 

Rudeness in disguise.  Some rudeness comes clothed in kid gloves. The perfect example is the back-handed compliment: "Love that new haircut! You look so much better than you did with long hair!"

 Unwitting rudeness. Poor table manners and talking at high volume because of a hearing problem are among the behaviors that are unintentional but are often spoken of as rude. 

Bottom-of-the-barrel behavior. Some behaviors are not only rude but also repel lent. Among these never-ever are spitting on the sidewalk, belching at the table, blowing your nose on anything but a tissue or handkerchief, and using hair-curling obscenities in public, especially around young children.

While surveys have shown that almost three-quarters of Americans think that rudeness has increased in the last few decades, it's also true that people have believed the same for centuries. (A book that took the English to task for a boom in bad behavior was written in 1405!) Still, modern life has spawned a whole new set of stress-builders all of which contribute to bad behavior. Media and entrainment are often blamed for undermining civility, and there's plenty of ammunition for the critics. On TV and in film, grossness and disrespect are often portrayed as humorous: in music, foul language is part of the package in certain genres; and in video games, the victorious are often the most violent.
    Sociologist also cite our obsession with self as a cause-good old American individualism gone wild, with people convinced that things should happen their way. We also feel the need to pack as much as we can into a twenty-four-hour day, and the technological revolution of the last two decades has made it possible to do just that. The price is a barrage of instructions, from the nonstop cell phone chorus to email in-boxes crammed with spam. Overlay it all with overcrowding in sprawling cities and suburbs and the need to do everything fast, and it's no wonder that stress-induced rudeness seems to spring forth from all corners and at every turn.           


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