Monday, April 6, 2009

We Mannered Few

As near as I can tell, there are three types of people in the United States: people who are offensive, people who are offended but too reserved to do anything about it, and a very small group that will actually hold people accountable. I am annoyed with the first two parties – though for different reasons. They are both failing the third party, each other, and society as a whole. They foster apathy, timidity, and create a breeding ground for a culture with no manners. I find it unacceptable.

If a parent has unruly children, it clearly represents particular parenting failures that have been allowed to continue unabated for too long. “I will do what I want,” reasons the child, “because mom won’t ever really punish me.” Children are smarter than we often give them credit. Whatever happened to disciplining the child that has a screaming fit in a grocery store? Buy them something to shut them up? That’s rewarding their behavior, which B.F. Skinner defines as operant conditioning. You’ve just trained your spawn to be hellions until you reward their miscreance with a treat. Rats learn this way. Be smarter than the rat.

If you are in a movie we all paid to see, but have a loud voice, try to bear that in mind when you’re telling your friend about your day and not even paying attention. Some of us can’t hear very well. Neither do we like having to strain to hear lines over the discourteous person nearby that doesn’t understand what it’s like to be polite in public. And for heaven’s sake, if somebody asks you to be a little quieter, don’t be insulted. Nor should you spend the remainder of the movie loudly shushing your friends because you still don’t understand that you’re loud and annoying. Ask an honest person if you’re irritating and disruptive. You may be surprised with the answer.

If you are accustomed to weaving a tapestry of profanity into your speech, give a moment’s pause to consider if everybody else around you is speaking similarly. If they are not, perhaps you should consider checking your speech. Slow down a bit, think about what you’re about to say, and prove, please, that you are more articulate than a seventeen year old inmate at a juvenile detention facility. I did not grow up hearing certain words, and I do not wish to hear them in public. I have expectations from people. If I was in prison, they would be lower. But, I am not in prison and nor are you. Act like it.

Consider that there are people around you representing multiple generations; old, young, married, single, parents and grandparents. How would you feel if they spoke like you do around your children? It would probably bother you. If it did not, then you are a parent that has failed Child Rearing 101. You’ve indoctrinated your offspring to accept, welcome, purvey, and even celebrate filth. You should strive for the opposite. Teach a child appropriate behavior and then let that child determine later on if he or she wishes to adhere to it. DO NOT teach your child profanity and assume that everybody talks like this. If you were aware other people existed on this earth besides yourself, you’d quickly discover that they don’t speak in such a manner.

If you feel yourself so important that you can’t even say hello or thank you to the clerk who rings you up as you continue to talk on the phone, I will openly encourage that clerk to overcharge you by hundreds of dollars. You’re too important to notice. Maybe you’re also rich. If they get away with it, I will also laugh openly and directly at you (and ask for a cut from the clerk).

Then there is the second type: the timorous. If you are offended by certain things, you are left with two options. You may either retreat from public altogether, or you may speak up. Both, at times, are reasonable. Some of us are supersensitive. More likely, however, people are super rude. So speak up, grow some confidence, and truly demonstrate that your convictions are deep-seated and purposeful. Tell people what manners look like by showing them. What are you afraid of? Humiliation? It’s the rude people that should be ashamed, and it’s your duty to tell them.

I am weary of being quiet. I am weary of being unable to hear the movie or have a casual conversation over dinner in a nice restaurant. I am bothered that the children around me and the nice grandmothers are expected to tolerate your mouth. I am weary of being told to just ignore it or go away. No, I am a paying customer, a tax-paying pedestrian, an adult, generally polite, and wish for my children and the strangers around me to be free from the burden of tolerating you. Others will join me, and you will have to learn, however belatedly, that manners are still the norm. Polite people: convince me you truly stand by your convictions. Speak up. And rude people, shut up, or we will shut you up. And we will be justified in doing so.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. Being a mother, a pedestrian, a consumer, a customer, a tax-payer, a friend, and a generally polite person, I couldn't agree with you more. It is, however, very hard to raise children in a society where they are being taught, not by me, but by all of the others around us, that it is ok to talk on the phone while in line and at the register, it is okay to spit outside the door of a restaurant, it is okay to walk by an elder, or a child, or a disabled person and turn your head as if they don't exist. Never mind the fact that there is pornography at every turn in the road, on every street sign, t.v. show, magazine, it may be subtle, but it is there. If and when people do stand up and discipline there children in public, or leave the phone in the car for a few minutes, or turn off their offensive mouths, maybe raising children and having a decent conversation, or even watching a movie in a theatre will be nice, but from where I stand I don't see that happening in my lifetime! My children WILL be taught what is right, and hopefully like you and I and a few other people out there WILL be offended by this nasty behavior!

  2. Hey, Ben, you went to KMart again? This was definitely your errand-running day, not your Starbucks day.