Archive for Sunday, March 14, 2004

More and more, civility seems to be a lost art

March 14, 2004

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Once upon a time, my friend Rod and I were discussing what we believed to be the most serious problem facing our community. I said "polarization." He said "lack of civility." He seemed sure of it and I had to admit that -- because he attended so many meetings where tempers ran high -- he was in a position to know.

Thus I had a sense of deja vu when my friend Martha said the same thing while we were having lunch. "People are hostile. No one gives anyone a break anymore," she said. "It didn't used to be like that."

Are people more rude than they once were? Take my experience (puhleeze) when I picked up our 27-inch television at the repair shop. Although he wasn't in the least talkative, the tall young male clerk looked pleasant enough. After he took my check, however, he stated flatly, "I'll bring your TV to the counter."

Because a quick glance at me tells even a casual observer that my biceps are the relative size and strength of a strand of wet spaghetti, I asked, "Would you mind carrying it to the car for me?"

He carried it, but made it clear that he minded a great deal. When I asked him to turn it so that the weighted side rested against the seatback, he heaved a huge sigh, removed his jacket and slammed it down on an adjacent car before complying with my request. Ignoring my thanks, he grabbed his jacket and stomped off before I could ask him, "Does your mother know you treat people like this?"

My friend Estel used almost exactly that phrase to the bus driver who didn't want to stow her two large suitcases on a trip from Texas to Kansas. "I guess he expected me to hold them on my lap," she says with a rueful shake of her head. When Estel protested, he answered her with such venom that another passenger overheard and asked his name, volunteering the information that her daughter was an attorney. Whether it was that not-so-veiled threat -- people presently sue at the drop of a hat -- or thoughts of his mother's displeasure at his rudeness, he finally stored Estel's luggage.

When my friend Jean and I took children to a fast food restaurant for lunch, one of the little ones had trouble deciding whether she wanted mustard on her hamburger. Although there was no one in line behind us, the girl behind the counter showed her impatience at the child's indecision by rolling her eyes, loudly sighing and drumming on the counter with her fingernails. "Whew," I said to Jean as we were carrying our food to the table, "that special order sure upset HER!"

And it isn't only young people who act rudely. Consider the salesman who, clearly old enough to know better, phoned Jean when she was distracted by the need to get out the door for an appointment. Realizing that he had less than her full attention, he said, "Hello? Are the lights on? Is anyone home?" BIG mistake! And my guess is that it was a mistake he didn't make again . . . at least not with Jean!

My husband Ray is annoyed when people don't respond with "you're welcome" when he thanks them. It seems a small discourtesy, but it irritates Ray so much when they omit the phrase, that he says it for them. He didn't have to do that in Mexico, though, because whenever he thanked a Mexican, they were quick with "de nada" or -- my favorite -- "¡No problema!" Mexicans were equally quick to say "gracias" when it was called for ... all except the policeman who extorted $40 from us at Playa del Carmen. Besides, it's extremely doubtful if he HAD thanked us that Ray would have responded with "you're welcome." And he certainly wouldn't have said, "¡No problema!"

Many years ago, son Greg flew in from Arizona on Christmas Eve. He arrived in Kansas City, but his luggage, full of Christmas presents, did not. Recounting the incident later, he said, "I was so mad I was shaking. And then I realized that the only person I could yell at was a person whose fault it clearly wasn't! So I didn't."

Unfortunately, that's a lesson a lot of people -- especially those in politics and the media -- need to learn. Our president has frequently stated that he hoped to restore civility in government. I have only two comments about his lofty goal: 1) AMEN! and 2) Good luck, G.W. By now you must realize you need it!

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