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Are we getting ruder? Well, excuuuuse me!

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POSTED August 18, 2012 1:09 a.m.

Supposedly America as a whole is turning into a mass of rude people.

As Steve Martin would say, “well, excuuuuse me!”

Does anyone really believe that is the case?

I’m not going to argue that there aren’t brain-dead clerks out there, morons behind the wheel who use the bird more often than their turn signals, gum-smacking dolts in movie audiences who deposit their cud on the floor after annoying the heck out of everyone in a 15-foot radius or self-absorbed individuals who need to virtually yell when talking into a cell phone in a restaurant.

There are people like that and more.

But I have a hard time believing that just because the days of implied Victorian politeness have long gone, that the level of rudeness has risen drastically in America. I’d venture to say the reason there seems to be less politeness is the fact there are more rude people.

I know that sounds a bit contradictory but consider the fact there are tens of millions more of us living in America today than just a generation or so ago. Couple that with the fact we’re bombarded more and more with TV shows that promote sarcasm and indolence as an art and the  human tendency to focus on the bad and the good, and you have a reason why it appears America has turned into Rudemerica.

Public Agenda, on behalf of the Pew Charitable Trusts, compiled a report a few years back entitled  “Aggravating Circumstances: A Status Report on Rudeness in America.” It was based on random phone interviews and focus groups and not field observations by researchers.

This is an important detail especially considering the interviews took 29 minutes to complete.

You’ve got to ask yourself what type of person would subject themselves to a 29-minute telephone interview with a complete stranger. Perhaps it is someone who has the patience of Job or someone who has nothing better to do.

Perhaps the researchers were influenced by the number of people who probably rudely cut them off. I could understand that.

It is important to remember that we tend to tell 20 people about a bad experience but we rarely tell anyone about a good experience we have at a store. Why? Because the rude experience or surly service is out-of-the-ordinary. There are some who’ll argue that certain chain stores are pretty bad when it comes to treating customers with politeness but you keep subjecting yourself to it over and over again for one of two reasons: you either place a higher value on saving a few cents over service or you don’t take the time to seek out a manager and make a complaint.

I’m not going to say I do so every time, but occasionally I will just as I will every once in awhile let a manager know about a clerk who has gone way beyond the call of duty to assist me. Politeness doesn’t happen by accident. It is re-enforced and encouraged by the response of other people.

Consider, for example, one part of the rudeness study that showed people believe younger people working as store clerks are becoming ruder with every passing year. That means someone - older adults we must assume - aren’t trying to re-enforce polite behavior or at the very least point out what proper courtesy is when waiting on the public.

And if I were to take a guess, probably the vast majority of the respondents were adults and the under 21 folks who responded to the survey - if there were any - probably weren’t too upset about the state of politeness in America.

That’s not to say politeness is a generational thing but it is definitely behavior that is learned, understood and appreciated better as one matures.

There have always been hot heads. The TV fare of the 1950s was probably too polite compared to the norm like today’s fare is too rude compared to reality.

Besides, people who would spend 29 minutes on the phone with a stranger answering questions about rudeness are way too polite.

 

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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