by Kathryn Barker
“If the authorities on social graces, Emily Post and Miss Manners (Judith Martin), define manners and etiquette as: "A sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use." "A little social contract we make that we will restrain some of our more provocative impulses in return for living more or less harmoniously in a community." Then I wonder if we are in the midst of an epidemic of rude behavior? Is there an increase in appalling behavior? Is it more prevalent in certain areas, like big cities, where accountability is improbable? How widespread is this affliction? Are we, as a society, poised on the precipice awaiting an imminent descent into a boorish abyss? Or have we already plummeted over the edge, headfirst, into the mire of a Rude Behavior Crater?
Reflecting on some of my experiences and those of close friends, coupled with evidence posted on blogs and in articles, it appears common courtesy is in rapid decline and perhaps, even out of style. Maybe those of us who would love to eradicate this manners deficit epidemic should create a "Social Graces Secret Society" and continue to practice the "rituals" of gracious living. Would we have a chance of overcoming inconsiderate behavior? Classic examples I have encountered, sometimes on a daily basis:
On the road: The guy/gal who isn't satisfied to go the speed limit and tries to hurry you along by tailgating. Someone zipping in and out of lanes without signaling, charging ahead like they're trying to outrun a raging fire. And the ongoing battle of who "owns the road" between cyclist and motorist. I notice this most in cities like Portland.
In parking lots: Why do people leave shopping carts in parking spaces? After all, the store spent extra money building special stalls for those little buggies. And why do big trucks and "fancy" cars think it is their right to take up two spaces for parking? Meandering down the middle of the parking lot, pushing your cart and chatting with your friend or on your phone, unconcerned that I am following you, desperately trying to find a parking space before noon, makes me want to say something unkind to you!
In restaurants: How do you handle sloppy, disinterested service? I understand someone having a bad day, or if the place is slammed, but when you have to ask three times for a water refill, that's carelessness. Sarcastic, complaining customers and ill-mannered children with underachieving parents can ruin a dining experience.
On cell phones: The lack of cell phone etiquette is one of my personal pet peeves. I am annoyed by loud inane conversations shared with everyone in restaurants, retail and grocery stores, lines at the bank or post office, movie theaters and coffee shops. I don't care if your boyfriend/girlfriend is being a jerk, how drunk you got at last Friday's party or whether or not you were invited to the wine tasting. And please, at least pause your conversation long enough to pay for your meal, or your merchandise! Believe it or not, you are not that adept at multi-tasking. Texting or constantly glancing at your cell phone to see if you have a message while I am talking with you is unbelievably rude.
In conversation with strangers or acquaintances: Unsolicited questions from strangers, acquaintances and even from family members such as, "Are you pregnant?" "How much did you pay for that?" and "Has he met his real parents?" cross my privacy boundaries. I am not a celebrity or a politician and I am not obliged to share my personal life with you.
Identifying declining courtesy issues is easier than determining how to respond to rude behavior and how to restore common politeness, respect and good manners. I believe it must start with us, in our homes and with our families. What do you think? Do you believe we are in the depths of a rudeness epidemic? Does it matter? And if adjustments need to be made, what do you think should be done? You can't legislate good manners.”