Times I have mistakenly prompted an adult to say “thank you” (after years of reminding my children): 2
Times I have watched children order their parents to do things for them: 1,746
Times “being real” is used as an excuse for not being polite: 7,954
I had a really cute professor of Psychology when I was in college. The class was “Personality,” and we did things like analyze our dreams and watch “Harold and Maude” and read The Tao of Pooh. Truly, heading to class each Tuesday and Thursday was an absolute dream. There were office hours with girls (even a few guys!) lining the hallways, waiting to talk to this guru, a true Cult of Personality.
Cool Professor Dude said one thing that stuck with me: “Being nice is highly over-rated.”
Word. As a college student, I thought that truer words had never been spoken.
Now that I’m old, I heartily disagree.
I get what he was saying. I do. But I think we’re at a point where being nice is highly under-rated.
Last week, I called our homeowners’ insurance office; we had to re-do our policy, and we had a few questions. I left a message.
Later that day, the phone rang, and I could see it was the insurance office calling.
[Butt-dialing-style background noise. Two women discussing something. Rustling.]
[More background stuff. Candy eating? Nail filing? Talk of what’s for dinner?]
Pause. “Ma’am? You’re just going to have to hold on for a minute.”
Let me remind you: she called me. I can’t believe it took me that long to hang up, but I was in shock, like when someone says something mean and you think of a great come-back late at night after everyone’s asleep.
She did not call back until three days later.
I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Who knows what’s going on in peoples’ lives? When they cut me off in traffic, I reason that their grandmother might have just died. Or if a clerk is rude at the store, perhaps the person in his line five minutes earlier ranted at him, leaving him rattled and touchy.
But I also find that “being real” has taken the place of good manners. Reality TV and “getting in touch with our true selves” trump good manners, and I have to say that I miss the “pleases” and “thank yous,” the being stoic when life hands you lemons or deals you a bum set of cards.
We went to see Hunger Games in the theater yesterday. I loved reading the trilogy; I loved the writing. I love how Effie Trinkett’s PR/Capitol Mouthpiece character is such a great foil for Katniss. And obviously, manners rank low on the totem pole as you are considering your possible demise. But as a commentary on where manners fit in in our society, Effie scolds Katniss after Katniss may have ticked off some sponsor-types at the Games: “Manners! Manners!” she reminds Katniss.
Ridiculous, we’re supposed to think. In the case of The Hunger Games, perhaps manners are ridiculous. Truth and honor and courage… all noble things. But in our non-Hunger Games world, I’d love it if people could add in a little kindness… and some pleases and thank yous.
One thing my old professor might be discouraged to discover: the proof is in the pudding. He was a really nice guy.