Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Just Be Polite

I had an experience today.  Unfortunately it isn’t a stand alone occurrence.  Punky and I have been attending a two day class on the Civil War at a local historical museum.  You can’t swing a dead cat here in the Deep South without hitting either a historical Civil War site or a church – but I digress.  This was a class for homeschoolers.  There was a young man in this class, a 6th grader, who was very bright and full of knowledge that he wanted to share with all participants.  You know the type – he’s headed to Harvard in another year or so.  Despite this child’s obvious giftedness there is one thing he truly lacked – manners.   

When the portion of the program turned to women’s clothing of the time period he grumbled about how useless this information would be.  I made the comment that a lot can be learned about a society by studying the accepted dress code of women during a particular time.  This child looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘fashion freak.’  “EXCUSE ME?  What did you just call me?  Did you just call me a freak?”  I took the time to point out to him that archeologists study the clothing worn during different time periods to better understand the society of that period.  He merely smirked at me and looked away without apology for his remark or even a flicker of remorse for having just addressed an adult in such a manner, or any embarrassment for being called out.  Later, while taking the walking tour of the house, I was headed down the stairs when he darted out from a side room and cut me off (nearly knocking into me) to get in front of me to descend the stairs.  I had had enough.  I remarked to him, ‘You really are a rude child.’  He walked down a couple of steps, looking back at me, and then stopped and waited while motioning for me to pass him.  When I did he said to me, ‘There, do you feel better now?  You’re back in your place.’  I didn’t answer him because it took every ounce of energy I had to control my desire to knock the hell out of the little shit.

This entire experience really got me thinking though.  I don’t know when it happened, I’m pretty sure it was a gradual process, but I’m certain there are studies or something that have probably been done.  We, as a society, are no longer polite.  Folks with far larger brains than mine can probably trace back the beginning of the decline and its root causes.  I just don’t care.  Is that impolite of me?  Well then, I fit right in!  Seriously, we live in a seriously impolite society now.  It is so hard to raise a polite child in an impolite world.

Let’s start with the basics.  Remember these words?  Please.  Thank you.  You’re welcome.  Excuse me.  I remember them fondly.  They were the words of my youth, ones that were drilled into me by (God bless them) depression era parents who came from a more polite time.  They are words that my husband and I have drilled into our daughter’s childhood with fervor and veracity.  She is a polite child, for the most part – we aren’t done raising her yet! 

Politeness goes beyond ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, of course.  Politeness implies, by actual definition, an appearance of consideration and courtesy.  Wow, what an idea; to be considerate of and courteous to others.  We live in a very ‘me’ age.  We are now all about ‘me’.  How can I be happy?  How can I find the real me?  How can I have a better quality of life?  Lots of self help books are on the market today to help guide you on your journey to an authentic you.  Makes sense then that YOU think it’s all about YOU.  I’m not trashing these books.  I think it’s fantastic that there are so many resources available today to help a person become the best version of himself.  I own a few of these such books myself and I have been enlightened and uplifted by them.  One or two have actually helped me change my life.  Irony ~ har.

However, I can’t help but wonder if we wouldn’t be better off if when trying to make our lives better, we start with the concept of polite.  Yes, of course the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, but are we incapable of going even deeper?  Can we get down to the nitty-gritty of consideration and courtesy to others?  In stopping and thinking about others first, at least some of the time, would we not create a better version of ourselves?  We are so consumed with the idea that we have to do what’s right for ourselves that we forget that everyone else is a ‘me’ too.  Others are about the business of pursuing their own happiness and our actions should, at the very least, do no harm to their pursuit.

I know, I know, these are BIG concepts that can’t be implemented overnight!  So, in the meantime, while we all wait for a radical wake-up call to change our behaviors so that we become a little more aware that there are others around us to whom we should treat with courtesy and consideration; why don’t we just start with the same basics that my husband and I did with our daughter?  So, excuse me, but please, give it some thought.  Thank you for taking time out of your day to read this.  Have a nice day.  Oh, and, you’re welcome!

~Mari B.


  1. Will you give me three guesses on who? Or -- do I need three? ;)

    1. No, Sherrie, it was a stranger with whom I had this encounter!

  2. Ye gods... I would like to hope his mother would be mortified at his behaviour. But somehow, I rather doubt it.

  3. I cannot - or don't want to - believe a 6th grade would be capable of this level of rude.

    - Jessica

  4. I can understand completely where you are coming from! You should see the shocked faces when my boys INSIST on holding a door open for someone, and they do not even say thank you...or I will get a comment like "Wow!". They have been taught manners and etiquette...they will open my car door for me, and close it (even when I am driving) They learned that from their Dad...
    There are too many kids to count who talk to adults as if they are equals..now, I agree that kids are people too, and they have a right to voice their opinions, but most of these kids have yet to learn the polite way of saying things, or have not developed a filter yet. If I wouldn't allow an adult to talk to me that way, why would I let a child do it?
    My real question is: What happened to the stereotype of southern people being the most polite Americans? I have yet to see it.

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  6. Kitty - I think you hit the nail on the head, for the most part, about how kids think they are equal to adults. I, too, believe that kids deserve a voice and respect - but you aren't my peer! I've run into the situation here in the Deep South where children do not call you by your last name. So I am not Mrs. So and So here. No, I'm Miss Mari. I hate that. I know it's a custom, but too many times kids drop the 'Miss' and just call me by my first name. I ask them once, nicely, to please not do that. If it happens again I politely tell them, "You are not my peer nor my equal. Do not call me by my first name." People think I'm a (bleep)itch for doing so.....but I think it feeds into what you were saying.

  7. You know, I've lived all over the country and some places are worse than others. I think the most rude people in general have been when I lived near Seattle...oy vey. We had tons of problems there in general with rude kids AND moms and just generally things out in public. Worse than Los Angeles, I swear. Anyway, we live in a small town now in eastern WA and these are the most polite people of anywhere I've lived including the midwest prairie towns. I'm always astonished at the young men who hold doors for me and say please and thank you, etc. It's so refreshing. In fact, for the year and a half we've been here I've never had a single rudeness incident with any kid, or even adult. Maybe I've just been lucky, who knows! But it's refreshing for sure.


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