More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
How rude!
Sun, Mar. 05, 2006

The plane was barely in the air before that guy slammed the back of his seat into your lap.

While you were crawling home from the airport, the car on your rear bumper swung into the I-95 entrance lane at Northwest 103rd Street and then squeezed back in front of you.

At the Broward Center for the Performing Arts that night, the woman in seat GG114 kept flipping open her cellphone, the one with the distractingly bright screen.

Is that what's bothering you, bunkie?

You are not alone.

Nearly eight of 10 Americans say incivility and rudeness are serious problems, and seven of 10 believe matters -- and manners -- are growing worse, according to national polls conducted last year and in 2002. And that, many people say, is creating a coarser, more shrill society -- particularly in South Florida.

''Rudeness? We're living in the capital of that,'' said Paul Koprowski, an accountant who lives in Pembroke Pines.

And it's not good for you.

Each seemingly small but gut-churning offense of incivility or its close cousins -- inconsideration and rudeness -- takes a toll on your mental and physical health, experts say. In addition, incivility often escalates into violence.

And so, the perpetual dilemma: fight or flight?

Or better yet, perhaps it is time to campaign for a restoration of civility in South Florida civilization. 'We need our institutions to communicate, educate and say, `Look, we care about this aspect of society that is being eroded and there are ways to shore it up,' '' said Ken Goodman, co-director of the University of Miami Ethics Programs.

Said P.M. Forni, a professor of literature and co-founder of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University:

"When we talk about civility, good manners and politeness, we are not talking about which fork to choose for the salad. We are talking about quality-of-life issues.''

At the top of his list of not-so-random acts of incivility:

Human-induced noise pollution -- unnecessarily loud reveling in restaurants, unnecessarily frequent honking of car horns, unnecessarily loud talking on cellphones, unnecessarily loud music, particularly from boomboxes.

''I do hope that more people start thinking about noise as a form of pollution, and that will induce our society to become more respectful of silence,'' Forni said. ``We have to rediscover silence because silence allows us to think and to reflect, and we live in an era in which we are starved for thinking and reflection.''

Goodman's pet peeve? After a long pause, a really long pause, a really, really long pause during which the many South Florida possibilities were considered, Goodman said: ''Fake, ersatz sincerity,'' particularly in the rapidly evaporating field of customer service. "They know the lingo, but you can tell they don't get it. The charade of sincerity.''

OK, at this point, it would be rude to proceed without establishing a few definitions:

? Civility -- ''Being civil means being constantly aware of others and weaving restraint, respect and consideration into the very fabric of this awareness,'' Forni says in his book, Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Behavior.
? Incivility -- Cursing in public. Having a ''wardrobe malfunction'' in public. Picking your nose in public (and, yes, that includes while sitting in your car at a red light).
? Consideration -- ''Thoughtful or sympathetic regard for others,'' according to Webster's New World College Dictionary.
? Inconsideration -- The idiot in the movie theater who loudly comments on every twist in the plot. The idiot on the road who uses the emergency or merging lane to gain an illusory advantage in traffic. The idiot who phones you, then leaves you on hold to take and linger over another call.
? Politeness -- Having good manners and otherwise honoring generally accepted conventions of society.
? Rudeness -- Repeatedly using the term ''idiot'' in the newspaper, regardless of how richly deserved it might be.

Or maybe this:

''This morning, I went to Starbucks and the lady behind me was in a big hurry,'' said Natasha Cruz, 24, a college student from Hollywood. 'I said, `OK, you can go ahead of me.' And she just pushed me aside. Not even a thank you, not even a smile. Nothing. It drives me crazy. The simplest things, people don't do anymore.''

So, why are civility, consideration and politeness important?

Well, we're all trying to get along, right?

''The quality of our lives depends on the quality of our relationships, and the quality of our relationships depends on our relational skills,'' Forni said. "Good manners, civility and politeness are age-old, time-proven, very effective measures of relational skills.''

Though every generation believes itself superior in some way to the one that followed, experts say the situation truly is deteriorating, and they point to several possible reasons. For one thing, there are more of us and we come from more diverse places, bringing our various cultural norms, and that can lead to friction. For another, technology is developing faster than we can cope with it.
Cellphones enable conversations that were impossible just a generation ago. Call waiting lets you signal to Caller No. 1 that Caller No. 2 is more worthy. Internet message boards forge an odd amalgam of intimacy and distance, and the often unpolished nature of that discourse can leak into more conventional conversations and encounters.

In addition, much of the major media -- particularly television and radio -- continually seek lower common denominators, simultaneously promoting diminished standards of behavior and serving an audience that already embraces them. Like it or not, experts say, people who appear on TV and radio become role models. If they indulge in unrestrained profanity and celebrate unbridled sexuality, that behavior steadily seems more acceptable in the real world. Paris Hilton and her sex tape. Shock jocks on radio. Graphic crime scenes on C.S.I. An episode of Friends that enters your home at 8 p.m. and revolves around Chandler being caught masturbating while watching pornography. Just this past week and just after 8 p.m., a young woman on Gilmore Girls, a TV program that has been lauded as family-friendly, told another character, ''She kicks my ass at Scrabble'' -- before the show's opening credits had begun.

Some say it all adds up and slowly corrodes society.

''Everyone starts becoming used to it and it becomes more common,'' Cruz said. "Then, everything has to become even more graphic and more outrageous because people become numb.''

And, some experts say, parents too often aren't doing their children any favors in this regard. ''Many people want to be kind and thoughtful, but are amazingly unaware of those around them,'' said Bruce Gjovig, director of the University of North Dakota's Center for Innovation. ''That is the problem of parents not working with their children on being aware and thoughtful of others,'' he said. "They do not have these skills when they need them.''

An extensive survey that included thousands of telephone interviews nationwide and focus groups in seven cities, including Fort Lauderdale, found that 79 percent of Americans believed that lack of respect and courtesy were serious national problems. In addition, 41 percent confessed to behaving rudely or with disrespect, according to the survey, conducted in 2002 for The Pew Charitable Trusts. Late last year, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that nearly 70 percent of American adults believed that people are more rude now than they were 20 or 30 years ago. ''What we're all discovering is that there is this thread of selfishness and entitlement that somehow Americans seem to have acquired,'' Goodman said. "It's all about me, me, me. This culture of entitlement produces behavior that is uncivil, and it rends society.''

The problem can be particularly acute in a place like South Florida, he said, because of the natural clash of cultures here: Brooklyn meets Boise, Havana meets Homestead meets Haiti. ''It is sort of worrisome,'' Goodman said. "South Florida, in particular, is a frontier town. I mean, you certainly couldn't have had the Eli?n [Gonz?lez] controversy or Election 2000 in Kansas. It's all about 'my' people and 'our' entitlements and 'our' disputes.''

And what happens when that happens?

Well, for one thing, your health can suffer. The relentless and cumulative tap, tap, tap of low-level stressors can damage your heart and dent your spirit. ''We've known for years that daily hassles have an impact,'' said Sue Rowley, director of the applied psychology program at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. "The most basic explanation is that our environment has changed more than our bodies.''

That motorist who thinks she's Mother Teresa, letting everyone in front of her -- and in front of you -- during heavy traffic on I-595 or the Palmetto. That loudmouth on the cellphone at Bayside Marketplace. That clueless store clerk in Hallandale Beach. Every little provocation stimulates the same response -- increased heart rate, dilated pupils, natural steroid flow to the muscles -- that our bodies developed to avoid lions and tigers and bears. ''A few minutes later, the stressor was gone or you were dead,'' Rowley said. "It doesn't work so well when you have that reaction so much of the time, even if it is at a less intense level. It wears you out and you get sick.''

Or you get punched or shot or stabbed.

Two words: road rage. Two other words: workplace violence.

''Many of those acts of physical violence have their origin in an act of rudeness or incivility that spirals out of control,'' Forni said. "If we keep down incivility, we keep down the levels of violence in contemporary society.''

So, would a campaign to restore a measure of civility stand any chance of success?

''I think it would,'' Forni said. "What is happening now and what your newspaper is documenting is that the discourse of incivility is part of the national agenda.''

Said Goodman: "Is there a chance? You know, go for it. I think there is hope. Americans are ultimately good and charitable people. We have some special issues here in Florida. But, yes, I think we have a chance.''


MVP, Forum Supporter
What is your opinion? Have you noticed more rudeness, lack of thoughtfulness, worse manners, more selfishness or laziness in the last ten or so years?

If so, is it something you have seen in younger people particularly? Or people in general?

What types of things have you noticed or what things have bothered you?

How do you cope with it? What do you think are our options?

To what degree will it become an obstacle to being happy? What do you think are the implications for peoples lives?
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