News and Tribune

March 22, 2013

STAWAR: A rude new world

Local columnist

— A few weeks ago, my wife Diane and I visited Spring Mill State Park and went into the lodge’s main lounge. We sat down in some comfortable chairs near the fireplace. 

We intended to read for a while, however directly across from us was a gentlemen (and I use the term loosely) watching video on some sort of tablet device. Oblivious to the rest of the guests sitting there, he breached everyone’s quiet enjoyment by having the volume turned up and laughing raucously at what apparently was the most hilarious program in the world.

Fast forward about a week later and we were in the lounge area at Clifty Falls State Park Lodge. We really like state parks. 

Some group had just finished holding a birthday party right in the middle of their lounge. The place was a mess, with pizza boxes and leftover cake scattered about. It looked like a premeditated event, not just an impromptu affair. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t have their party in some private room rather than commandeering the lounge.

After a few of these experiences, you can become sensitized and begin noticing instances of rudeness all around you. For example, there’s a restaurant in Jeffersonville that’s on our circuit for lunch. Diane say she often sees people holding business meetings there — even conducting job interviews — without ordering anything. 

Many people use their Wi-Fi and may or may not buy drinks. Sometimes a group will be gathered around a table, but only one person orders anything. This sort of thing happens all the time, even during the busy lunch hour. Someone also told us that he saw a man buy a drink, sit down at a table and then take his lunch out of a bag to eat, like the place was a public lunchroom.

Rudeness is generally seen as a display of disrespect by not following expected social norms or the established etiquette. While it falls short of criminal behavior, which violates other people’s health, legal rights, or property, rudeness never-the-less violates the dignity of other people and is intrinsically confrontational and disruptive.

The lack of civility in last year’s election cycle convinced many Americans that rudeness was on the ascent. Writing for the Politico website, Journalist Roger Simon reviewed the survey, “Civility in America 2012. 

“This survey showed that over 70 percent of Americans have lost hope that our political parties can discuss matters civilly.” Only 17 percent of responders said that they had not experienced rudeness in their own lives. In this study, driving and shopping were the most common venues for rudeness, although over a quarter of Americans also said that they experienced it at work and in their neighborhoods as well. The survey showed that Americans blamed the usual suspects — politicians , the economy, youth, the media, celebrities, corporations, the Internet, social media and cell phones for the increasing incivility in our society.

The survey also used a rudeness/civility scale to rank various organizations, institutions and people. Political campaigns, the government, pop culture, the American public and the media topped the rudeness list. Friends and family, PBS, USA Today and CBS News were deemed to be the most civil of the things ranked. Both presidential candidates were perceived to be on the civil side, with President Obama slightly edging out Mr. Romney. 

Rudeness can also have serious life consequences. According to this survey, more than 44 percent of Americans say they ended a friendship or other relationship because of rudeness; 23 percent said they quit their job; and 13 percent said they moved their place of residence due to rude neighbors. 

Women and older Americans are most likely to be disturbed by rude behavior. Overall, about four in 10 Americans admit that they are not as polite as they’d like to be and a another study reports 60 percent of people say they were rude because they just didn’t have the time to be nice. 

North Carolina Blogger Tammy Swallow recently compiled a fairly comprehensive list of what she considered to be the most common rude behaviors. Her top 10 includes 1. Not picking up after your dog; 2. Using a cell phone at a movie; 3. Driving slow in the passing lane; 4. Leaving messes in public bathrooms; 5. Blocking store aisles; 6. Cashiers who ignore you; 7. Treating waiters and clerks rudely; 8. Grooming in public; 9. Stealing credit for others’ work; and 10. Not controlling unruly children. 

In her article for entitled, “Does America Need a Time-out?” columnist Faith Salie writes, “I’d say our capacity for incivility is the same as ever, but what is on the rise is our ability to express and bear witness to rudeness.” She says, “Rudeness isn’t contagious, but we all may be carrying the virus.”

Christine Porath, from Georgetown University, who studies rudeness in business settings, says that when treated rudely “ ... 94 percent of the time people will say that they get even with the offender.” And when employees are treated rudely, a quarter of them say that they take it out on customers. Perhaps most importantly, when she asked employees why they are rude, more than 25 percent point to their leaders and say, “because they’re disrespectful.”

While many people may believe that they cannot help being rude back to rude people, Salie disagrees saying, “This notion of contagious rudeness absolves us of responsibility.” We must always remember that rudeness is a choice we ultimately make.

Finally, last Sunday Diane was shopping in a local store for Easter dresses with our granddaughters. Our middle granddaughter came out of the dressing room in order to show her mother the dress she was trying on. When she went back to change, the door was locked. 

Diane knocked on the door (not entirely unlike the knock the Gestapo would make on your door). There was another woman inside the room with a young girl. They had thrown our granddaughter’s clothes on the floor. 

Diane assertively informed the woman that the room was occupied. The woman didn’t apologize, but did take the girl and leave the room. She seemed anxious not to be criticized in front of the child, suggesting that she was fully aware that she had taken someone else’s room and deserved a rebuke. As for me, I wasn’t in the store at the time. I was left back in the van with the rest of the unruly children in our own attempt to be polite. 


— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at