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Rudeness in America


from Saratoga News This article appeared in the Saratoga News, November 5, 1997.
©1997 Metro Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rudeness has wormed its way into the national fiber

By Dale Bryant

It crossed my mind back when assertiveness training was fashionable that we could have a crisis on our hands if enough people subscribed to the notion that they didn't ever have to take anything from anyone. What would happen, I used to muse, if someone schooled in assertiveness training ran head-on into someone else who refused to give an inch?

Well, I think it's finally happened. Suddenly, a whole bunch of people seem to have chips on their shoulders, and they're running around looking for someone to knock the chips off. "I just dare you!" they seem to be saying.

What I'm wondering is, whatever happened to good manners? When did common courtesy fall into disfavor? How come rudeness and bad taste have become commonplace?

The norm used to be basic civility; today the phrase "in your face" is often used to describe popular books, music, movies and attitudes in general. Fashion magazines and music videos are bursting with this "look," a confrontational pose, with chin jutting out, mouth in a snarl.

What perversity in our culture turned shock jocks into heroes and canonized the likes of Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh? People tell me it's fun to listen to them. I've tried. I find it about as amusing as listening to a baby scream in an expensive restaurant where I've gone for a relaxing evening. Why do NBA superstars have to engage in trash talk? Can't they just play basketball?

A while back, someone called me at work and screamed obscenities and threatened "legal action" against me for five minutes before she even gave me a clue about why she was angry. It turned out this lady (I use the term advisedly) wasn't just angry with me; she was pretty much glaring at the world when I happened to cross her path.

My friend who's a school administrator believes this kind of attack isn't personal at all. "We represent institutions they're mad at," she says.

While I think there's validity to the "person as institution" theory, it doesn't completely explain the development of rudeness as a national trait.

I think the stage was set in the '60s, when youthful protesters learned that the "establishment" ignored their concerns until the concerns were upgraded to non-negotiable demands. "I have strong personal convictions about the morality of this war" just didn't work as well as "Hell no! We won't go!"

Somehow, the high road of the '60s idealists seems to have converged with the assertiveness training tactics of the self-help '70s and gone on a collision course, crashing into the '80s, where it collapsed in a pool of selfishness.

This collision produced a generation that claimed the beauty of Beavis and Butthead was that the two offensive MTV cartoon characters said the things people thought but never said. In fact, the two reflected a growing trend in our society to say whatever you feel like saying, without bothering to give it a minute's thought.

The common courtesy issue aside, the problem with in-your-face rudeness is that the natural response to attack, as we know from natural science, is fight or flight.

A person who would otherwise be receptive to legitimate concerns and constructive criticism looks for cover when that criticism comes coated in venom.

Rudeness not only isn't nice, it's not very productive.

Dale Bryant is the editor of the Saratoga News.

This article appeared in the Saratoga News, November 5, 1997.
©1997 Metro Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.