Refusing To Let Rudeness Rule

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - June 01, 2005
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The female employee of the supermarket was young — early 20s. She was talking to a co-worker as my son and I passed the two of them in the aisle. What came out of her mouth was foul. It was f—- this and f—- that, and in a fairly loud voice.

Had I not been with my son I might have ignored it. But he’s 11, and I think I have the right to shop in a store without having its employees expose him to obscenities.

But when I let her know we had heard her, instead of apologizing she gave me stink eye. You know — the look. The one that says, “Mind your own business, witch.”

Only witch probably wasn’t the word she had in mind. OK, maybe the girl was having a bad day. Maybe she was angry about something. I don’t know. I don’t care. What I care about is that in a place that advertises service and a pleasant shopping experience we were getting an earful of filth in the cereal aisle.

Now I’m pretty realistic. Cussing is all around us. Most let fly when they’re angry or upset. But there are boundaries. Or there should be. You don’t swear in front of strangers. You don’t curse in front of your grandma or mom. And you certainly don’t do it within earshot of clients or customers, and never, never around kids. I do not want to have to shield my son from the employees of my local grocery store.

I contemplated that as I stood in front of a counter in an electronics store waiting for the next available salesman. I knew it would take a while. There were too few of them and too many of us. Finally, one man asked (politely) if I needed something. As I answered, I heard a voice — loud, angry and accusing.

“Wait your turn!” the voice said. Confused, I looked around. A young woman was glaring at me. She said it again, “Wait your turn!”

“But he asked me,” I replied, confused. I had no idea how long she’d been waiting. I felt sheepish and apologetic, even though I had done nothing wrong. As I left the store I pondered what could have caused such anger. The only reason I could come up with was that she must have genuinely thought I was being rude, and was ready to fight for her place in that line. And that, I thought, was what a society that behaves badly does. People expect ill treatment and when they get it, it makes them mad. And anger causes them to be rude. It’s a vicious circle.

It’s our own fault, you know. We have allowed ourselves to be coarsened and jaded to the point where we consider bad language and rotten behavior normal. We accept it as part of our everyday lives. Our standards have been gradually lowered until they hit rock bottom — to the point where we are actually surprised when we encounter civility.

Hey, folks, shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Who wants to live in a world where rudeness rules and manners are obsolete?

We need to treat people courteously and respectfully, and we ought to expect the same in return. We need to set our standards of behavior higher, and then strive to live up to those standards ourselves. Otherwise we’ll raise another generation of kids who will look around them and conclude that it’s OK to be rude.

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