Rudeness on the rise: Where’s it coming from, and how can we deal with it?
By BOB FOULKES
Is it just me, or are there more rude people in the world today?
I went to an afternoon movie on Saturday; we arrived early to get good seats. By the time the trailers started, the theatre was about one-third full. Sitting behind us and slightly to the right were three people. The middle one chattered through the trailers; I immediately went on low level alert. When the movie started she continued to chatter, not in a whisper, not sotto voce, but in a full thespian splendour; her voice didn’t insinuate, it invaded.
I calmly turned after her third or fourth comment to her seat mates and asked to her to be quiet. It didn’t stop. It seemed to encourage them; her seat mate joined the conversation. I asked again, noting that we had come to see the movie not listen to their idle chit chat. That didn’t stop them either. Finally, 20 minutes into the movie, to rid ourselves of their distracting behavior, we moved. We left our carefully selected seats, climbed to the back of the theatre and spent a moment resettling.
We managed to pick a worse spot to view the movie and we were now surrounded by conversations in stereo; couples on either side of us wanted to discuss the movie as it was unfolding. I watched the rest of the movie in a seething self-contained rage. The movie was memorable only for the rudeness of these few talkers. If it had been a serious movie, you’d be reading about me in the papers as we speak. I can throw quite a hissy-fit.
I poisoned my day with resentment which, as Carrie Fisher describes it, is “like drinking poison, while waiting for the other person to die.” The chatty audience members likely enjoyed the movie, oblivious to the annoyance they inflicted on others. I allowed their talking to crowd out any enjoyment I might derive from the movie. I drank the poison, I paid.
I have asked others what they thought about this public display of rudeness. Are we as a society becoming more selfish and self-centred, less considerate in public spaces, less charitable toward others, less likely to curb our behaviour? Do we even care about not offending others? Is this our future?
Or am I just getting old, suffering, as my friend Bob calls it, from hardening of the attitudes. Have I become less accepting of behavior for which I do not approve? Am I becoming old and grumpy, like Stattler and Waldorf, the curmudgeons of Muppets fame?
Answers were mixed; most friends have their own stories of rudeness inflicted on them. We shared horror stories, revelled in our moral superiority while mutually abhorring society’s march toward narcissism and kvetching about the decline of manners and civility. The high ground of moral superiority gives one perfect perspective: rude, dangerous drivers, noisy people in public places and the constant interruption of cellphones were all grounds for public scolding.
My other pet peeve was universally acknowledged: Who has not been made instantly invisible and insignificant, made to wait to finish a sentence while our companion checked his iPhone/Samsung/Blackberry? The little flashing light on the evil device always wins.
Much has been written about whether our constant connectivity is degrading our intimate relationships. There is no doubt in my mind that it is. We have thousands of Facebook friends but may not have anyone to call when we need to move the fridge. We may be LinkedIn but cannot find a single person who knows us well enough to write a reference letter for our next job.
There is another consequence. We now live in real time, the now of instant gratification. We all have short little spans of attention. We are easily distracted and such constant distraction is addictive. Our concern for others, our collective civility, our focus on intimate relationships is weakened. It is my movie and I can talk if I want; I get to say it — out loud and now.
I am not yet resigning from the human race and heading for the Yukon with a year’s worth of survivor supplies, not that anyone would notice. I hope I’m just slow to adjust to new realities of this crazy world I live in. I hope my skin gets thicker and I can better tune annoyances out. There are probably too many boors to discipline, and resentment will consume me. I try to develop a more charitable view that minimizes my exasperation, not because I’m nice, but to save myself from death by the poison of resentment.
So I have been working on a new year’s resolution; I’m going to drink less of that poison and more from the fountain of kindness. In the end, it may not be about me, it may just be about life as we know it today.
Joshua Halberstam in his book Everyday Ethics summed up the main reason for my resolution to be more accepting of such behavior:
“When you judge other people remember one overriding axiom: ‘Everyone is having a hard time. Everyone is insecure, Everyone is tired — we all need more sleep. Everyone wishes he had more courage, more money and better social skills. Everyone wants more glamour in his life and we all desperately need more laughter. Few can figure out how they ended up living the life they lead. Don’t be misled by flippant talk: It’s a battle for everyone.
“Give people a break. It’s not easy doing a life.”