By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Some book titles beg to be read. When I heard about this one, I knew it was worth exploring: “The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude,” by P.M. Forni. You know those people who instinctively know exactly how to handle rudeness and always have the perfect, snappy comeback that puts a rude person in his or her place? I’m not one of them. I’m in the group that stands there shell-shocked, completely unable to formulate the snappy comeback until four or five hours have passed – wasted hours we’ve spent stewing about it.
For those of us whose mamas raised us right, we need a book like this – now more than ever, as rudeness runs rampant. People video rudeness and post it as entertainment on YouTube. A few television shows flaunt it, and some people do it at work and justify it by calling it assertiveness or freedom of expression. While some may say rudeness is in eye of the beholder, I think it’s possible to define it, and the book mentioned above calls it “disregard which diminishes and demeans.”
“Disregard” brings up another important point: It is entirely possible to be “rude by omission.” Ignoring someone can be just as rude, if not more so, than saying something snotty. One of the best pieces of professional advice I ever got came in my early twenties from a man named Larry who had been around the business block a time or two. I was a young business reporter, and he was one of those well-connected professionals who was kind enough to teach me a few things without making me feel like an idiot. He said the best advice he’d ever received was this: “Always return your business calls or e-mails within 24 hours – 48 hours at most.” It wasn’t the profound business truth I was looking for, and I didn’t fully appreciate it until years later. But what Larry was saying was that when you don’t respond to someone who has made a request of you, you are, in essence, saying “You don’t matter.” And that’s about as low a blow as you can deal to anyone.
My most intense education on rudeness came several months ago when my part-time work required me to make sales calls, on the phone and in person. Here’s what I’ve learned: Most people who sell something earn every dollar they get because they are keenly aware of just how rude the world can be. Every day they must sell to people who look down on them as if they’re on the lowest rung of the professional pecking order. Sales work is an incredibly tough thing to do, and on a bad day, it can run your self-esteem right through the hay thrasher.
On the up side, my experience in sales work has made me more compassionate – sometimes too compassionate. If it weren’t for my Caller ID service, I would have already bought 50 magazine subscriptions, upgraded my cable service and purchased vinyl siding for our brick home – not because I need any of it but because I can’t stand to let the guy on the other end of the line feel bad. When I do take those calls from solicitors, I do my best to deliver the “no thanks” as gently as possible, remembering that he or she is a person a lot like me, with a job like me, trying to get by, just like me.
Ultimately, as our moms always told us, there really is no good excuse for rudeness. It’s contagious and it makes us less than what God intends us to be. But we’ll probably never rid the world of it which is why it’s so important for our homes to be a safe haven from it. Leonard Felder once said “One of the great ironies of life is that most people say hurtful things to their loved ones that they would never say to a stranger, or even to an enemy.”
Here’s hoping that your week ahead is free of incurably rude people, your home full of peace and that we all act the way we would if our mother and God were watching.