Monday, December 7, 2009

Reflecting on Civility, Restraint, and Compassion

Well I've done it! I've been to the mall. It was a mercy mission for an elderly neighbor who needed to return a gift purchased a week or so ago for her grand daughter. The 14 year old, had not minced words over Thanksgiving, telling her grandmother that the skirt and tee - shirt outfit lovingly chosen was "hideous", and that she'd rather have money. It took all the restraint I could muster not to head for Phoenix myself to seek out this ungrateful brat and give her a tongue lashing. Instead I saved her grandmother a trip to the mall and made the return.

The department at a major department store was was not especially crowded but initially I couldn't find anyone to help me. Finally, an older lady, who told me as we made the transaction , that she was a part-time seasonal worker, sorted everything out and the return was credited. She was exceptionally helpful and patient with me as I rummaged though my bag for the receipt I had put away carefully. That was the bright spot of the morning soon tarnished when the two women leaving the store ahead of me let the door go and it caught me smack on the forehead. My instinct was to hurl not-so polite words after them. I kept quiet. Certainly didn't want to trigger an episode of "door rage".

I stopped at the grocery store on the way home - the parking lot there was not crowded but I did wait behind someone determined to get a space by the door. An invalid space as it happened. The woman backing out was slow and cautious - the woman waiting for the spot decided she could hurry things up by leaning on her car horn. I parked across and watched a young woman - maybe 30 - leap out of the car, now in the reserved for invalids spot, cell phone to ear, and run into the store. She certainly showed no sign of being incapacitated and her car did not carry invalid plates. Once again I had to summon restraint and stop myself from confronting her in the check-out line.

So here it was close to 1:00p.m. in this season of goodwill and I was batting one for kindness, three for bad manners and three for personal restraint.

Driving home I couldn't help but meditate on the general decline in manners and civility (I know I've ranted about this before) in society - and it's top down. If we don't teach children manners through example, how will they ever learn? I've watched this coarseness and crudity in young people reach near epidemic proportions in England - and it is behavior absorbed by example there as well as here. When did being polite go out of style? What was the transition that turned parents watching a little league game from cheerleaders for their kids into ranting maniacs screaming at the young referees? What gives so-called celebrities the right to get away uncensored with public tantrums, profanity laced tirades, crude, overtly sexual displays. No wonder a younger generation finds it cool to be gross. It's behavior we've rewarded in all aspects of life.

I for one am fed-up with excusing bad manners. I will not listen to foul-mouthed talk-radio hosts spewing hatred; I will not subscribe to magazines that sexualize young girls; I will not smile and excuse rudeness. Perhaps if we all took a stand, lessons could be taught. And it's not just teenagers I'm raving against - I know quite a few who are a credit to their upbringing and I enjoy their company. I'm tired of listening to a forty-something's far too personal cell phone conversation in Safeway - I'm tired of listening to loudmouthed know -it- all's at the gym hog the treadmill and spew hatred about our President, and equally tired of the men and women who show up to exercise in outfits that suggest pole dancing might be their primary occupation!

I'm neither a prude nor congenital grouch but in this season when we pay lip service to giving, compassion, respect - surely it's not too much to hope for a little common courtesy to emerge. There was a time that I long for when people could hold opposing views on politics and social issues, gather at the same dinner table and engage in lively, and not infrequently, enriching conversation. At a recent cocktail gathering, my host, knowing I have strong views on immigration policy, urged me not to enter into conversation with a man who he said , "will go ballistic" if he hears you! I ate my cheese stick and left. I don't want to be in situations where I am afraid that a differing opinion will create conflict and confrontation.

I'm going to get through this month by showering compassion on boors, despots and bullies - let's see how they like that!


  1. Here, here... My sentiments exactly. Why do we tolerate rude, why do we discount our own beliefs for the sake of being political correct or not making waves. No waves, no boundaries.

  2. I couldn't agree more! We are becoming complacent and accepting of such rudeness and bad behavior. Our so-called 'role models' are spoiled people who have everything handed to them because they are beautiful, can sing, act, or play a sport. We, as a society, continue to reward bad behavior with air time on the all the cable news channels. Until we stop doing that,we have no one to blame but ourselves.
    Like you, I'm not a prude, but as I write this, I'm watching (sort of) a sitcom that I've never heard of, and the language and sexual innuendo is over the top for a show that's on at 8:30 pm!
    On the bright side, I did encounter quite a lot of pleasant people while I was Christmas shopping today, and I coach some really wonderful people, so I KNOW there's hope.
    Loved your post!

  3. Thank you, thank you. Nursing a bruise on my forehead and ruminating on my rant, I'm even more determined to defeat the anti-polite with kindness!


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