The new civil war

Baby, it's cold outside!

Baby, it’s cold outside!

All right, I’ll say it: It’s a wee bit chilly outside.

OK, more than a little if you’ve been overtaken by the polar vortex that’s dissipating a little too slowly for my taste.

However, I’ve noticed something strange yet quite pleasant in this bone-chilling cold: People are being a bit nicer to each other … at least the people I’ve encountered over the past several days.

Not this cold, but you get the picture. Image of foyer at Ice Hotel in Kiruna, Sweden, from Bing Images.

Not this cold, but you get the picture. Image of foyer at Ice Hotel in Kiruna, Sweden, from Bing Images.

OK, so maybe it’s just because we’re so cold that our minds are only occupied with trying to get warm again, so much so that we just can’t spare the energy it takes to be rude. Right now I’d even trade all my hot cocoa for a little less rudeness in the world.

Psychologists have studied the rise in incivility, and determined several possible stressors that cause boorish behavior, as well as pinpointed specific forms of rudeness. For example, a 2012 study of 1,000 adults by the firms Weber Shandwick, Powell Tate and KRC Research found a marked increase in online animosity and cyberbullying. Screen-shot-2012-04-21-at-12.53.51-PM-500x277

I think just about anyone who’s ever cruised the comments section on political stories or on Facebook pages can vouch for that. Shouting down, downvoting or reporting to the board’s moderator those who disagree with a particular point of view seem to be par for the course. The relative anonymity seems to help feed this behavior. Social media then becomes anything but (a prime reason I refuse to join Facebook or most other “social” sites).

It appears that trolling comment boards is the only thing many of these people do, which is really sad if you think about it. Spending your life looking only for the negative is no way to live … but don’t point that out on the boards unless you really want to spend the rest of the day defending your obviously biased opinion. Just smile and nod, boys.


Remember what your mom used to tell you when you’re a kid—if you keep making that face, it’ll freeze that way—and apply that elsewhere. According to Ryan Martin, quoted in the American Psychological Association’s November Monitor on Psychology, the findings of recent rudeness studies debunk the conventional wisdom that “venting” is good for you, and show that it can actually establish that reaction as a default.

“I used to have a soccer coach who said, ‘Practice makes permanent,’” Martin told the journal. “That’s what’s happening here: If you get in the habit of venting anger in this way, it becomes your go-to mechanism for dealing with anger in all circumstances.” hofferquote1

It would be nice if such behavior was only online, but that’s far from the case. Most people probably have encountered, just in the past few weeks, at least a dozen people who bullied others to get their way (bullies are no longer just indigenous to the schoolyard). And I think we can all agree that Congress (and D.C. in general) is badly infected with it, though partisans will only see the other side as the bullies.

Yelling at store clerks or customers, cutting in line, leapfrogging and tailgating speeders on crowded highways—all are indicative of a society where people care only about themselves, and it’s only getting worse, it seems. This sense of entitlement no longer comes from actually being entitled to something (because it was earned through merit), but from the ingrained belief that it’s completely deserved (because of mere existence).

bootyfulEtiquette experts say that one of the best ways to react to rudeness is to just let it go in most cases if there’s really no harm but annoyance, especially if the offender is a stranger. Sure, exceedingly rude behavior can be called out, but engaging boors in an argument can often make their behavior worse. Weigh your options, then react calmly and politely. Or just walk away (which at a family gathering can save lives sometimes). 1345392267812_6933517

I assume upon meeting someone that that person has inherent good will and makes good use of it, but I know that many will prove me wrong, possibly because of some preconceived notion held about me. Like opinions on politics and religion, these notions are sometimes immovable, and when that happens, I know I just have to accept that that person may never like me regardless of how delightful I may be.

One of my rules in life is not to capitulate when someone bullies me as it tends to encourage them to continue acting like an … uh … annoyance. Always getting your way is not realistic by any stretch of the imagination unless you happen to be on a planet with a population of one. And we’re about 7 billion past that. Compromise is thus necessary (and it’s not evil, cross my heart).


There’s unfortunately no easy way to combat rudeness, but if even a few of us can make a commitment not to mirror boorish behavior and to “kill ’em with kindness,” perhaps we can start to make a dent. There will always be people who refuse to find the positive in anything, but we don’t have to sink to their level. hofferquote2

OK, I know it wouldn’t happen overnight, but just because there’s not a quick fix to something is no reason to not try anything and let the status quo stay the status quo.

Are you listening, Congress? Even a little progress on solving a problem is still progress.

One thought on “The new civil war

  1. Pingback: All in moderation | Serenity is a fuzzy belly

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