So Rude

I recently visited a country where it seemed like the people had no manners. After cleaning up someone else’s garbage so I could sit down at the airport and getting smacked in the face by a door that someone didn’t hold open, I started to wonder if I was just expecting too much. Maybe I have old-fashioned Victorian ideals or maybe I’m just too Canadian, but I do expect people to show some common courtesy such as letting others off the elevator before entering.

The definition of rude is to be rough, unfinished, crude, ignorant, uncouth, discourteous, uncivilized, vulgar, or occurring abruptly. It covers a lot of behaviours including etiquette, decorum, and proper conversational skills. At its very simplest, it means being inconsiderate towards others. The problem is, we don’t all agree what is inconsiderate because we subscribe to different sets of manners that are based on our heritage, family values, and personalities.

What do you consider rude? If an anxious person doesn’t look you in the eye when you meet; if a straight shooter tells you the brutal truth; if a teenager who doesn’t have a more sophisticated way to communicate rolls his eyes; if a busy corporate person doesn’t respond to your FYI e-mail that didn’t require a response – are they being rude? I don’t think so. Then again, I’ve been accused of being rude.

To figure out what is truly rude we may need to ask ourselves whether the seemingly rude behaviour is based on ignorance, obliviousness, different values, or contempt. If someone with out-of-province plates is driving in a confused way searching for road signs and realizes at the last minute that they must budge to get on the off-ramp, is that the same as someone who cuts in line just because they think they shouldn’t have to wait like everybody else?

Rudeness isn’t all bad. It can be a mechanism for shaping appropriate behaviour. For example, if a teenager tells a friend to “shut up” or “move”, it’s not necessarily the speaker who is rude. It’s often the recipient who has transgressed perhaps by interrupting or over-stepping a boundary and is being corrected because they missed the cues – the shake of the head, sarcastic tone, and silent treatment – that signalled what is and isn’t acceptable.

So, what is and isn’t acceptable?

I could say things like cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, take your shoes off in someone’s home, knock before you enter a closed door, say please and thank-you, and don’t touch people or their things without asking, but not everyone would agree. Although we could probably all agree that throwing dirty baby diapers in someone’s bushes and knocking over little old ladies is rude, the rest is debatable. It’s probably more prudent to say that it’s polite to respect that everyone is different and we all find different behaviours offensive. We have to take the time to learn about each other if we really want to avoid being rude or being the recipient of rudeness.

You can treat people the way you would like to be treated, but it might not always ensure that they will think you are considerate. Observe the cues a person is giving and ask questions if you’re not sure how they like to be treated. If someone expresses that they are uncomfortable, annoyed, or unhappy by something that you’re doing, simply don’t do it ­- whether you personally think it’s rude or not doesn’t matter. If a person repeatedly ignores polite requests and only responds after others become less polite with them, who is the one being inconsiderate and rude?

In conclusion, be a good listener, be tolerant, be helpful, and be honest. Caring about others is all that matters.

-D.R. Graham

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