Early Spring 2006
I'd been standing in line at the grocery store for what felt like longer than a flight to Thailand. The minute another woman got in line behind me, a clerk appeared at the next register saying, "I can take the next person in line!" (You probably know where this is going, right?) Yes, the woman behind me hopped over to that register faster than I could say "Huh??", and by the time she pulled out of the parking lot with her groceries, I was still waiting in my line, and a line had now formed at the other register as well. When I was finally greeted by the clerk's "Find everything you need today?" I was imagining that woman already at home knitting in front of the fire. Arrgh.
Whenever I get together with friends these days, our conversation generally includes at least one horror story about a recent brush with rudeness, and I'm not talking about misplaced salad forks. Of course, compared to the growing risk of a human flu pandemic, a national etiquette crisis may seem like pretty small stuff, but I'm obviously not alone in my concern. I read in the "U.S. News & World Report" that nine out of ten Americans think that rudeness is not only a serious problem that's getting worse, but it is also creating more opportunities for violence.
What would our lives be like if we all respected (or least acknowledged!) one another in simple ways by showing up on time, returning borrowed items, replacing the empty toilet roll, and all that stuff we learned to do in kindergarten? And what happened to our manners between kindergarten and 2006, anyway? According to The Associated Press-Ipsos poll on public attitudes about rudeness, 69% of people think that parents deserve most of the blame. (Certainly they weren't referring to Chinaberry staff and customers!) Given that parents are supposedly more involved today than ever (according to everyone from "USA Today" to the "Wall Street Journal"), exactly what seems to be the problem? I can't help but wonder if all this rudeness is a by-product of a growing sense of self-entitlement that seems to be pervading our culture -- an attitude of "I can keep you waiting for 20 minutes because my schedule is more important than yours," and "I don't have to let your car in front of mine on the freeway because I was here first, and besides, my car is newer and cleaner than yours."
I'm perplexed because it all seems so simple -- so Golden Rule, so kindergarten. While I run the risk of sounding like Mr. Rogers here, it's really all about simple consideration. It's thinking about how our actions will impact others -- be it our next-door neighbor or the environment. We seem to be pretty good about this during times of tragedy or on major holidays such as Christmas, when many are basking in the glow of "Miracle on 34th Street" and hot spiced cider. If only we could hold onto that feeling long after we've brought in the New Year. I'm all for making a resolution this year to be more mindful of those around me as well as the future generations to follow. My hope is that next year at this time when I get together with friends, none of us will have a single tale of rudeness to tell.