New Year’s resolutions tend to be about losing weight, quitting smoking, saving money, or getting more exercise. But some studies show that number 1 is spending more time with friends and family. I See Rude People: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society is a new book by syndicated columnist Amy Alkon with some good ideas on how to make the best of that time. It is not about what we usually think of as manners — who gives the bridal shower, whether asparagus may be eaten with the fingers in polite society — but about civility, the very small elements of every interaction throughout the day that cumulatively leave us feeling either connected, safe, appreciated, and generous or angry, hurt, frustrated, and isolated.
Alkon tells stories of bird-flipping motorists, internet bullies, clerks and tellers who recite bureaucratic oblivious cell phone talkers, parking hogs, and others who in a world both increasingly connected and increasingly fragmented has made it easier for us to depersonalize those around us as we connect to those those who are not here at the moment via cell phone, blackberry, texting, tweeting, and watching tiny little screens. She is very funny, but she makes clear the impact of all of these insults, large and small, to our notion of being part of a caring community.
And she takes us with her as she insists on better treatment. From everyone, including bank executives who will not help her find the impostors who pretended to be her so they could withdraw money from her account and the hit and run driver who banged into her car. And the guy who stole her pink rambler — let’s just say he got a lot more than he expected and not in a good way and it features a surprise guest appearance from an Oscar-winning actor. And then there’s the time she tracked down the guy behind the robocall and called him at his house during dinner. She also invoiced another caller for the use of her time.
Alkon does not let her commitment to courtesy prevent her from being very clear and forthright to those who do not treat her appropriately and about them on her blog as well. (Warning: she also has no hesitation in using very strong language.) As she piles up the litany of all-too-familiar abuses, it seems that there is a downward spiral insensitivity that leads to insularity that leads to a sense of entitlement. Read the comments on any blog — do you think some of those people would speak that way if they were in the same room with the person they are complaining about?
I was very amused to see Alkon including “Goofus and Gallant” cartoons I remember from Highlights magazine when I was a child, but they make her point very well — that we know the right way to behave and that if we don’t, common sense and common courtesy (neither of which are as common as they should be) will guide us. This is a worthy book — along the lines of the delightful Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door by Lynne Truss.
Note: It is never too early to talk to kids about good manners, especially because there are so many bad examples around them and in the media. There are some great books like What Do You Say, Dear? and What Do You Do, Dear? But the only real lessons they ever learn in manners are the ones they see demonstrated around them every day. Let them see you say “please,” “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “excuse me,” write thank you notes, and treat others not just the way we would like to be treated but the way we would like others to treat our children.