Rudeness Begins at Home

As a baby boomer, I was raised in a time where personal technology didn’t exist. There were land lines, rotary phones; always black with a long curly cord. If you wanted to call someone, you dialed the operator first, gave her the number, and she got the call through. Also, no one I knew ever had more than one phone in the house.

In my house, I had to earn the privilege of using the family phone. I was ten years old before I was allowed to answer the phone. When I was given that right, I  was taught answer it in this way: “hello, Bullock residence; this is Jane. May I ask who is calling?” It was impressed upon me early on that the phone was not a toy.

Play time meant being outside playing tag, statues, Red Rover, checkers, marbles, dolls, climbing trees and making mud pies. Adults held all the cards, and you did what you were told. Kids had chores to do before they could go out and play, and at that time kids minded their elders and were taught manners, deportment and how to grow into a responsible adult.

If you got in trouble at school, you got in trouble at home as well. Kids were taught at an early age to toe the line OR ELSE.

But the biggest offense I can remember was being rude to someone, especially to an adult or older person. Parents told their children in no uncertain terms that adults were older and wiser (sadly this was not always true) and deserved our respect. And no kid I knew ever dared to talk back to their parents.

Needless to say, times have changed. Rudeness has become a sad normal, and it still shocks me to see how prevalent it has become. I can’t count the times I’ve heard grammar school kids shout obscenities to each other, and to teachers.  Rudeness has become so ordinary and accepted that often we don’t even realize the consequences of it until it is too late to change.

There are many ways of being rude, too. Years ago, I was in a doctor’s office for a physical. The nurse asked me all the usual questions, and then took down my height. Then, when she put me on the scale, she said, “Good GRIEF!!! Do you have rocks in your pockets or something? You certainly don’t LOOK that heavy!”

Well—didn’t that just make my day. I have to wonder whether people are intentionally rude or if they just plain don’t know any better. In the case of this nurse, I think she was trying to give me a compliment. It back-fired hugely.

I believe that, if we grow up in a household where everyone is rude and sarcastic, we accept that as normal. It seems sad that the usual response in traffic when you slow down to let someone else go ahead, the person behind you blasts their horn because you’ve caused them maybe a 5-second wait.

I think that rudeness is mainly frustration and wanting to be heard. By being rude to another person, it gives the one being rude a temporary feeling of ‘there! I got MY way for once!” I wonder if rudeness comes from not being listened to as a child. Maybe this is why so many people have a “me first, and the hell with all of you” attitude.

But there’s an upside to this; we can choose not to be rude. Habits can be hard to break, but it can be done. I decided a long time ago that changing my outlook on rudeness made my own life better. I began to believe that rudeness is just a habit, and that many times it’s an automatic response, meaning nothing.

The Southerners have a wise and gentle way of excusing rudeness which I appreciate. I lived in the Carolinas for a while, and admired this technique. It was as simple as this: when someone said or did something rude to another person, that person on the receiving end would say, “Well, *bless your heart!”

Over the years I’ve found this response will cut the rudeness right out from under someone. They can’t get mad, really, and they are not getting a rude or spiteful response to keep their fire stoked. So they inevitably just grumble off to be rude to someone else. For the time being, problem solved!

*This is common Southernese for “well, f*ck you!”

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