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Rudeness and Miss Manners

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 8:06 a.m. CST

What do you mean, Americans have gotten ruder?

Poll after poll has been showing it in recent years. Nearly 70 percent of respondents to an Associated Press poll said people are ruder than they were 20 or 30 years ago.

Why would that be?

Lots of reasons. For starters, life is moving faster these days. Companies are employing technology that has dramatically increased the speed of change. This technology has enabled competition on a global scale and employees, fearing for their jobs, are working long and hard to keep up.

Yeah, yeah.

The pace at home is much faster, too. Many couples, having fallen into the big-mortgage trap, are both working. To afford large houses, they’ve moved farther out into the suburbs. They’re perpetually sitting in traffic jams, rushing to pick the kids up from day care, and racing to get home to make dinner.

It’s a free country.

Computers, video games and other gadgets are isolating people from each other. And many people are living far away from their extended families — living among people they are not deeply connected to.

Sounds good to me. My family drives me nuts.

Even modern architecture is promoting isolation. Look at the older homes built in the 1920s. Big glorious porches were on the front and the garages were in the back. Homes were designed to invite friends and family to stop in for a visit and some cold lemonade. Now the porch is hidden in the back and the garage is on the front — even our homes are rude to people.

If you say so, pal.

As a result of this desensitization and the stress of modern times, we’re seeing more incidents of road rage, more people cutting in lines at the supermarket, fewer people holding the door open for strangers. I know I’ve been short with service people at times.

Being rude with service people is the only reason I get out of bed in the morning.

What’s most interesting is that folks are quick to see rudeness in others, but not in themselves. Only 13 percent said they’d used an obscene gesture while driving. And only 8 percent said they’d used a cell phone in a loud or annoying manner.

I do both every day on my lunch break.”

“It’s certainly true that life is moving faster and keeping up is more stressful, but that’s no excuse. We all need to get back to the basics. Parents need to do a better job teaching their kids to have respect for others. Adults need to slow down and be more considerate of others.”

“Why should we care?”

“Because a civil and mannerly existence is not just a more delightful way to live, but one that is essential to a well-functioning society. But don’t ask me, ask Judith Martin.”

“Judith Martin?”

“You know her better as Miss Manners. She says that good manners are the philosophical basis of civilization, that it’s essential folks have a common language of civil behavior that restrains their impulses.”

“But impulsiveness is my favorite hobby.”

“Martin says our legal system was originally intended to punish serious conflict involving the loss of life, limb or property, but the legal system is now forced to handle disputes that the proper use of etiquette used to prevent.”

“I ain’t following.”

“She says that what used to be an insult is now called slander. What used to be meanness is now called hate speech. What used to be boorishness is now called sexual harassment. If the rules of civility and etiquette were stronger, fewer people would engage in actions that are now considered crimes.”

“Slander, meanness and boorishness are illegal now? There goes the weekend.”

———

EDITOR’S NOTE – A prior version of this column was distributed by Cagle Cartoons in 2008. It is an excerpt from Tom Purcell’s new book, “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” available at amazon.com.

———Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood” and “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. Send comments to Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.

©2013 Tom Purcell

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