You know, when you get a new puppy, or even give a home to an older dog who needs one, the first thing a responsible and loving person does is start to teach that animal its manners.
We teach them to sit and to stay, to come when called, to not jump up at people, to not snatch or bite. We teach them what they can get away with at home and how they must behave in public. We teach them these things for their comfort and safety, for our comfort and safety, and for the comfort and safety of the other people and creatures we come across in our daily lives.
We also teach them these things because nobody, not even a rabid animal lover like myself, likes an ill-mannered or rude dog.
Some dogs take longer to train than others—they need a little more patience and a lot more tolerance. (I love that single moment when a new puppy finally realises what it is you want. It might be a simple as the first time he sits on command, but he is so excited and pleased to have made you happy that you can almost hear him say ‘Oh okay I get it. That’s easy. I can do that. Ask me again. Ask me again.’ ) But the really great thing is, once a dog has learned his manners he will rarely forget them—they are with him for life.
Over the last couple of weeks I have come across one or two people whose manners seemed to have completely deserted them. Fortunately, these interactions occurred while I was at work, dealing with members of the public, which made it possible for me to do nothing more than smile (albeit through gritted teeth) and hope that the offending boor left the building before I actually said out loud what I was thinking in my head.
Why do I say I was fortunate to be at work? Because in such instances, when someone is flat out rude to me, my own first instinct is always to ‘bite’ back (or poke their eyes out with a sharp stick) but being at work I was forced to be mindful of my manners, and, although I don’t always like it, that usually works out for the best. I have learned from experience that by biting my tongue (sometimes until it bleeds) I can usually avoid an ugly confrontation (and probably a nasty escalation) and, with no input from me they will soon get bored and go and look for someone else to play with. Once the offending so-and-so has moved away, however, all bets are off, and I freely admit to having been horribly, scathingly, toe-curlingly rude to people—once they are out of earshot. (In my defence, those thoughts I was thinking in my head can’t just stay in there you know—my head would explode.)
Anyway, there have always been rude people about (and sometimes it feels like I have met all of them) but I also usually find them pretty easy to ignore, so I was not sure why these last couple of incidents bothered me so much. I couldn’t quite shake off the irritation (hence the subject of this week’s blog), but then I came across an article about a Study which had been published this year at the University of Florida on the effects of rudeness in the workplace, and it all started to make a bit more sense.
A Ha! That would explain a lot.
Apparently when people experience (or even only witness) rudeness, they start to notice rudeness in their environment more, making them more likely to judge something as rude, and this judgement then causes them to respond to their next situation with rudeness. (Wow. There was a lot of ‘rudeness’ in that sentence.)
An example the study cited was that if someone walked by you and said “Hey, nice shoes!”, you might think that was a compliment, or you might think it an insult—you can interpret it either way, and your brain has to decide. If you have recently experienced rudeness, your brain is more likely to take that comment as an insult, even if it wasn’t meant that way. This is apparently an automatic process—it takes place in a part of your brain that you are not aware of, can’t stop, and can’t control—and you would not really be aware that the reason you (mis)interpreted the “nice shoes” comment was because someone had been rude to you earlier. Interesting, huh?
The study also noted that while behaviors like aggression, abuse, and violence are generally not tolerated, often rudeness tacitly is. I guess I proved that last week when I smiled and said nothing out loud to ‘Mr Rude’ (while my mind was stapling his ears to his head and sticking biros up his nose).
So it makes you wonder how much ‘peripheral’ rudeness we are absorbing every day (and not only at work) without even realising it. Like the person who bumps into you or pushes by you with no apology . . . or the woman who throws down 25 items in the ten-items-or-less lane in the supermarket . . . or the man at the front of a very long queue, determined to finish his cell-phone conversation before speaking to the sales person. And then there are the internet ‘trolls’ who bully and berate, and sometimes even drive to suicide, people they don’t know, have never met and are never likely to meet—and the TV programs which allow (in fact, openly encourage) their participants to behave towards others in ways that, in the real world, could (and probably should) get them arrested. (And then there are also those people who constantly book into free classes at our college and then repeatedly fail to turn up, without so much as a sorry-can’t-make it phonecall . . .)
If we are subconsciously soaking this all up, all day, every day, it is no wonder we are becoming ruder!
So what’s the answer? How do we deal with all this raging rudeness without becoming part of the problem ourselves? (Because none of the obnoxiously rude people we ever encounter include you or I.)
Well the University of Florida study didn’t really come up with any new answers, rather only re-stating what most of us probably already know—we need to be nicer to each other. We should focus more on how we treat others, rather than on how they treat us. (Sigh. That’s often easier said than done. I can get the irrits with other people quicker than almost anyone else I know.)
Perhaps then being nice to each other will become contagious—and I won’t have to worry so much about my head exploding. One can only hope . . .