Is it just me, or does it seem like people have gotten really rude in the last few years? Have civility and manners become outmoded fashion? Does expecting people to behave themselves with at least a modicum of respect for others make me a relic? Ok, I know that there have always been badly behaved people. But seriously. Lately it seems to be epidemic. I’m not talking about Emily Post and which utensil one uses with the aspic. I don’t really care about that. I know it might drive some people up the proverbial wall, but if someone uses the inside fork for the first course, it doesn’t cause the fabric of my cosmos to tear. However, people running off at the mouth when they ought to use their brain first, does bug me.
I’ve been noticing this less than attractive trend for a while now. It happens everywhere. When did people decide that their loud cell phone conversations everywhere from a restaurant to a coffee house to sometimes even outside in close proximity were at all interesting to anyone else? When did people decide that sitting in a legitimate theatre or a movie theatre and talking like it was their living room is acceptable? Are people shopping at the local supermarket so myopic that they can’t see that their conversation with their neighbor while blocking the access to one or more aisles is incredibly annoying? Do the parents of overly active and under-restrained children honestly think that everyone finds their little darling jumping up and down on seats or screaming in the store endearing? If I hear “now, now” one more time… I may throw my own tantrum.
This last week the trend was highlighted publicly and embarrassingly by the actions of both Serena Williams and Congressman Joe Wilson. Now, I of course, don’t personally know either of these people. And let me say right here right now: I’m not discussing politics. Politics are not the point. Neither is race. What I know about Ms. Williams is that she is a phenomenally gifted athlete. What I know about Mr. Wilson is that he is need of a serious hair stylist. That’s pretty much it. What I saw through the magical medium of television, since I was not privileged to attend either the U.S. Open or the joint session of Congress, was, however, appalling. What was even worse was the lukewarm “My emotions got the better of me” statement from both of them. I’m not saying that their apologies were not sincere, because I have no way to know that. I can say what it looked like was two people just going through the motion of an apology.
I suppose I ought to be grateful that much was said, since most of the time people respond to being even gently confronted about their rudeness with a mixture of: 1) disbelief that anyone could find their behavior objectionable, 2) anger that anyone would dare to even mention it and 3) a defensive posture that would serve them well in the WWF. I’m all for assertiveness and standing up for oneself, but acting like an arse just because one has a constitutionally guaranteed right to isn’t the most attractive option that can be taken.
I’d like to think that manners still count. That manners are still taught. That manners are still a concept. That civil behavior is not just something from an old movie. I could just be harboring this naïve hope in the face of the Rude New World. I hope not.