Last week I stopped for a cup of coffee on my way to work. Standing on a line with seven other people, I took advantage of what would be the last quiet moments of my morning before entering my fast-paced office; I took a few deep breaths, smiled at the Latin music playing overhead and chatted with the friendly stranger behind me. The woman in front of me, however, was a different story. An impatient woman with an abrasive demeanor, she walked up to the counter to order her coffee, barking her words as though they were a command.
“Sugar?” asked the polite barista.
“Gimme two,” the customer snapped back. “And don’t use skim. I want regular milk.”
As the barista put the lid on the top of the cup, the dragon-lady in front of me sighed and rolled her eyes, giving an impatient backward hand-wave, that rude way of speaking volumes without saying a word. “You’re slow and incompetent,” it implied. “Hurry up! My time is valuable and you’re inferior.”
But the two words she should have said, she didn’t. Grabbing the coffee and walking out the door without even acknowledging the man holding it open for her, she plowed down the street, never even bothering to say, “Thank you.”
We’ve all met a version of this woman: The co-worker who pushes you out of the way with no apology in his rush to a very important meeting, the harried restaurant guest who barks orders at a waiter because he feels superior, the cashier who acts as though it’s an inconvenience to ring up your purchase. My concern is that I’m meeting people like this more and more often.
And I’m not alone. A recent article posted on Life on NBCNews.com explains, “A slippage in manners is obvious to many Americans. Nearly 70 percent questioned in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll said people are ruder than they were 20 or 30 years ago. The trend is noticed in large and small places alike, although more urban people report bad manners, 74 percent, then do people in rural areas, 67 percent.”
Rudeness, it seems, has become an epidemic.
There are all kinds of theories about the reason. Some say parents, scrambling to survive, aren’t finding the time to teach good manners. Others blame the resentment that seems to be growing out of hard times. Some blame the media’s tendency to glorify the crude behavior exhibited by celebrities, while still others blame technology, claiming that we’re losing the ability and desire to relate to one another as human beings. A society focused on the “me” seems to pervade all of the reasons.
Personally, I don’t really care why it’s happening. I just want to herd all of these people onto an remote island and set them loose on each other.
Until that becomes a legal option the question remains, what do decent human beings do to live with rude ones in the meantime?
Researchers at Baruch College at City University of New York would say simply ignore them. In their 2013 study that included 120 people, it was determined that engaging in conversation with someone offensive was a natural human tendency, though it was also found to deplete an individual’s emotional resources and energy.
Amy Alkon, nationally syndicated advice columnist and author of the book, I See Rude People, however, prefers to “shame people into behaving better.” When a woman was discourteously shouting about her need for glasses into her cell phone, and blurted out her contact information in an otherwise peaceful coffee shop one morning, for example, Alkon put the woman’s name and number out on the internet, causing people from all over the world to call her about her glasses and, no doubt, her behavior too.
And then there are others who prefer to disarm a rude person with wit. In an entertaining AskReddit discussion that asked the question, “What are your favorite witty replies to rude people?” one contributor claimed that asking, “Are you having a bad day?” disarms them every time. Another woman told a story about her husband’s boss going off on a rant; after listening to her go on and on, he waited for her to finish before saying, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening. Can you say that again?”
The truth is, we’re stuck with rude people – more of them than ever before – and I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to reform them. After all, narcissism seems to be at the root of their behavior, and narcissists don’t care about others enough to change. It does seem, though, that we can deflect their negativity, stop them in their tracks or simply walk away. However you choose to deal with them, I hope that you manage to avoid the contagion of their negativity. It would be very easy to give up on humanity and start being a bit crabby yourself after being exposed to all of that, well… meanness. Please remember that there are still some us out here who will thank you for holding a door open and that we’ll gladly do the same for you. We’ll be courteous when we ask you for something, we’ll still strike up a conversation with you while waiting on a line, and we’ll still smile and express gratitude for your consideration. In short, please just remember that it’s nice to be nice. And for those of you who aren’t, I have a ticket to a nice island that I’d like to sell you.