April 10, 2007

A Rant About Manners

This discussion has been brewing in comments for a couple of days now. Review the beginning here.

I hope to make my position on this matter clear in this post and put the item to rest. This post started as a comment response to reader Britton's comment on this second post on the topic.

He said:

She would probably not have moved if you called her a fucking idiot though. Just saying. Not that she would have been any less "wrong" but it wouldn't have solved anything to be rude.

I started my response with this:

Why on earth would I have said that to her, though? She wasn't being a "fucking idiot."

You're failing to see the distinction between an honest mistake and a grotesque disregard for one's surroundings.

Let's continue.

The first case doesn't actually bother me very much as long as the person in error moves politely to correct their error. For example, those cases where someone doesn't see or hear me approaching them from behind on the sidewalk and they bump or drift into me. Yes, these things annoy me, but only a little bit and "excuse me" usually resolves

Or maybe two people are chatting and they take to standing side-by-side on the escalator and don't notice me walking up behind them and have no reason to expect that anyone might be approaching them. Again, "excuse me."

Another case are those where someone is attempting to navigate the subway with a babystroller or large bag. This cannot be avoided. They have to manage these things and as long as they remain conscientious of the fact that they are, in fact, taking up more space than everyone else. Polite people in this situation usually beg forgiveness from those they inconvenience. "Oh, that's ok. I understand."

Now consider all those other cases I listed in the previous comment thread.

These are the same people who leave their candy wrappers and cups in the movie theater. These people litter. They stop to talk to their friends in a narrow hall or doorway. They stop short on busy sidewalks. They walk to the front of long lines and pretend to be confused when someone tells them to go to the back -- but sometimes they're successful in cutting in line. They're people who drive slowly in the left lane. They're people who speed up to keep others from passing. They talk loudly on their cellphone in stores and elevators. They're people who wait for 10 minutes in line at McDonald's and still don't know what they want when they get to the cashier.

They're rude. Their lack of due attention to those around them is so outrageous that "fucking idiot" is perhaps the most polite thing I can say to describe them.

A tourist stopping suddenly on the sidewalk is blatant discourtesy, but as has been pointed out, really of minor consequence.

What about the person who slams on their brakes suddenly on a rainy street because they missed their turn? I was in a collision once because someone did that. Granted, it was legally my fault because I was following too closely (I was actually accelerating in order to pass) but their disregard was a physical danger to those around them. Studies show that people on cell phones present a similar danger on the road for the same exact reason.

The problem is that these people are not paying a due amount of attention to what's going on around them.

Courtesy isn't merely a luxury. As I've mentioned, it's a set of rules that allow us to navigate social situations without conflict and often times safely.

The foundation of courtesy is conscientiousness. This means that you have to be aware of where you are and those around you.

We cannot demand omniscience or infallibility. Mistakes happen. Misunderstandings happen. We straight those out with civil conversation.

But when there is no demonstration of even basic conscientiousness and no extenuating circumstances are plausible, how should you respond? It's up to you. The good thing about these rules is that there is no mandate that you must respond in any way at all. You might ignore them. You might attempt to excuse them to others. You might ask them to pay closer attention. You might confront them for their lapse. You might call them a fucking idiot if that's your style.

I am personally a huge fan of talking loudly about how rude the person is. Those of you who know me, know what I mean.

In all cases, let the context be your guide, but I advocate pretty much any action that will bring the offender any level of awareness to their offense.

Note: I think attempting to actually educate these morons is futile. Attempting to explain what courtesy is and why they should be more conscientious will undoubtedly fall on deaf ears. The objective is much more short-range: make them aware of merely the fact that they are in error. Further discussion beyond that should be just for your amusement or that of those around you.

This is why merely saying "excuse me" strikes me as being insufficient to the task. (Of course, your own circumstances may not permit anything more.)

I find myself ranting frequently about this problem of people failing to pay attention and my kindhearted friends always say things like, "Flibby! They didn't know!"

My rebuttal is usually that they SHOULD have known. And those are the cases I'm talking about.

How could you possibly be unaware of the fact that you're walking down a busy sidewalk? The fact is that if you aren't aware of this, you're a menace to society. "Fucking idiot" really is the politest thing one can say about someone like that. (Unless you really are crazy and in that case the politest thing is "fucking certiifiable.")

I'm sure I could go on about this more, but I think you get what I'm trying to say: PAY A'FUCKING-TTENTION!!!!!!

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at April 10, 2007 09:50 PM | TrackBack

I would think you were truly becoming a New Yorker, had I not heard you talk about this down here in the south! Erik would be proud. Carry on!

Posted by: Sarah at April 11, 2007 08:43 AM

That is not true. I beg you to recall our trips to Estrellabucks and my rants about people's conduct entering doors, standing in line, etc.

And even in GA, I used to also rant about people who litter and leave their garbage in the movie theater.


I hate them!

Posted by: Flibby at April 11, 2007 09:59 AM