Why is common courtesy not so common anymore?

True story:

You’re driving behind a car with its sunroof open when suddenly an empty fast-food sandwich box comes flying out from the top of the moving car. Sure enough, next comes the whole wadded-up bag hurtling through the open sunroof. The litterbug never looks back.

True story:

You are meeting someone interested in your craigslist item. You’ve set a place and a time to meet on your way to work, but you wait so long before you call your buyer that you’re already late. You finally reach the buyer, who had a change of heart about the item but didn’t think it was necessary to let you know.

True story:

You’re at a sports bar with a bunch of friends and no one is really keeping tabs on the tab, though everyone is enjoying beverages and appetizers. Then a couple of people slap a few bucks down on the table before the check even arrives and take off. You and the rest of the group are left to divide out the tab and make up the inevitable difference.

What’s going on here?

Aren’t these people being disrespectful, inconsiderate, and even rude? Yes, yes, and yes—and all are suffering from the symptoms of a basic lack of common courtesy.

Cover of "The Civility Solution: What to ...

In his book, “The Civility Solution,” P. M. Forni describes “unfocused rudeness” as bad behavior not specifically directed at us, such the flying fast-food missiles. Rude, certainly, but not intended for any specific person. (Cover via Amazon.)

This kind of unfocused rudeness also plays out in late-night loudness, cell phone conversations in restaurants, and offensive and profane speech anywhere in public. Rude, inconsiderate, and yet, for the most part, probably oblivious.

Focused rudeness is just plain mean…

The flip side of unfocused rudeness, is, of course, rudeness focused on making an impact on someone…for whatever reason. Focused rudeness is mean-spirited, such as someone letting the doors close on the elevator you are sprinting to make.

Or someone striding past the startled greeter at a restaurant without even speaking. Someone speeding up so you can’t merge from the on-ramp into the traffic lane. Rude, inconsiderate, and mean.

Courtesy is just not that hard…

What baffles me is that courtesy is just not that hard (except for the oblivious, and we all fall into that mode from time to time.)

Hold the elevator; acknowledge the greeter; let someone else merge, pass, change lanes, make a turn, slow down to look for an address, and especially get into line in a construction zone.

 Being inconsiderate and mean takes, however, takes effort.

Speeding up to prevent us from merging means believing it’s better, more cool, more satisfying to cut us off, requiring a specific change in thought and behavior to take this action.

Letting the elevator close even when someone else is in sight, also takes a decision: “I don’t want to be bothered; let ’em get the next one.”

In fact, any of these behaviors signal that the person behaving rudely knows we’re there, and that we can lump it or leave it. Mean-spirited? Practically the definition.

Ramping up the rudeness meter…

Two of the true stories at the beginning of this column, though, seriously ramp up the rudeness meter:

1—Not bothering to call when someone is waiting on you. The craigslist scenario is between strangers; strangers who have made an agreement, true, but strangers. Common courtesy says to call—even a stranger—if you’re going to late…and especially if you plan not to show up at all!

My verdict? Rude, discourteous, and inconsiderate.

2—Leaving your friends holding the tab. Most likely, the people who strand you with the check aren’t worried so much about the amount they owe, as with the process of deciding what it is they do owe. Added to that is the fact that they know exactly who they are sticking with the bill.

My verdict? Extremely rude and discourteous, with a sense of entitlement thrown in.

Even common courtesy is not so common anymore.

What do you think?

A little more about the author:

Andrea Doray is a Denver-area writer who grew up with such a horror of being deliberately rude or discourteous that she can fall into the “oblivious” category from time to time. View her profile on LinkedIn. Please and Thank You.

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