This is a positive take on dealing with a negative issue – people acting rudely. Although I don’t like giving attention or energy to those parts of life that we’d rather not experience (“what you resist, persists”), it does seem like we are moving through a time with greater levels of impolite behavior and we need to be prepared to respond in a way that does not contribute to its further growth.

I’ll admit that there have been times when I’ve been caught off guard by the offensiveness of others such that I’ve either responded in kind without thinking or I went off dwelling on it, giving it more mental energy than the incident deserved. However, I have found that with a little bit of preparation and forethought, I can become more proactive than reactive in my responding. Consider this article “prep time for the next time” someone surprises you with boorish behavior!

Where did all our manners go?

I know I’m not the only one who has noticed an increase in insensitive behavior. If you Google the phrase “epidemic of rudeness”, then you will discover a large number of articles on the topic. When people describe rude behavior, impolite driving habits and insensitive cell phone usage appear most frequently. Here’s a link to an article by a person who actually took the time to classify the “25 rudest rude behaviors” – a far greater listing then I would want to take the time to compile, but a great reminder for us to skim through and make sure we’re not being rude in any of these ways!

However, I do want to mention a few ways in which I have experienced insensitive behavior that in my opinion can contribute to growing our so-called “epidemic”:

Negative political ads – I am writing this a few days before an election and it’s gotten to the point where I can’t turn on the TV or go on the Internet without encountering political ads. The vast majority of these paid political spots are negative in tone. Few ads state what a candidate is “for”. Most are attacks on the other candidate. These commercials are rude and insensitive and I have personal concerns that they are contributing to the growth of an environment of general negativity.

Negative TV commentary – Far too often we hear commentators on TV badmouthing those whose opinions they don’t agree with. In my opinion, Fox news is the biggest culprit here, but you can find it on other channels as well. It’s okay to disagree with a political opinion, but we don’t have to attack the other person simply for holding a different belief. Even beyond the news programs, we have a number of “reality shows” where contestants are given feedback which at times is rude and non-constructive criticism.

Negative comments online and in social media – Being a person who puts myself out in the public eye, one of the things I’ve had to deal with is people who have made it their personal mission to point out to me how “wrong” I am about something. Again, I’m okay with differences of opinion – but there have been a number of times when the person’s comments began bordering on personal attacks. Most rude! If you navigate the Internet very much, you don’t have to go very far to find people being offensive. Media sites who offer comment fields frequently find them full of vitriolic venom. I’m often surprised how people sitting in the anonymity and privacy of their own homes can feel like it’s somehow okay to verbally attack people out on the Internet.

Why are we acting so rudely?

I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer to this question. A little bit of online research found the following items to be possible reasons:

  • anonymity, therefore no consequences
  • a lack of rules or manners being taught by parents or schools
  • the mirroring of behavior learned through the media
  • fallout from our competitive lifestyles coupled with a belief in limited resources
  • failure to emotionally attach to parents or others as a child
  • an increase in narcissism
  • our making “fundamental attribution errors” – assuming someone else’s behavior is based on their personality rather than the circumstances and reacting from such error

We could probably find other reasons and you may have some in your own mind. I frequently am convinced that a lot of rude behavior is a product of the generalized stress of modern life. People are overwhelmed to a degree by everything going on around them and are rude to others because of this undefined stress they feel in their lives.

Another factor for our rudeness (I believe) is based on how we bump into other people who hold different worldviews and we can’t understand why they think like they do. Not recognizing that others may view the world differently and have different motivators, we frequently act as if the other person is an “idiot”. I see this sometimes in responses to my own online commentary – traditional fundamentalists believing in the Bible end up sometimes telling me I’m “going to hell” while material fundamentalists believing in scientism end up sometimes telling me I’m “woo woo”. Neither comment is constructive to our relationship!

How can we best respond to rudeness?

As I mentioned at the beginning, the better prepared we are for these close encounters of the rude kind, the more likely we will respond proactively. Here’s a few tips –

Take a moment to respond – When the situation is right in front of you, at least pause! I love the way Stephen Covey taught how we can imagine expanding the time between the stimulus and our response. He called us to expand this gap as much as possible so that we could consider our options and respond in the most effective manner. When the situation is online or some other scenario where you don’t have to immediately react, then sleep on it. Come back in a day or two. What riled our emotions in the moment, frequently appears less important with time. Also, when you are writing a response, read it several times to ensure it has the proper tone and won’t get misconstrued.

Acknowledge any mistake on your own part – there is nothing wrong with admitting your error and will generally diffuse much emotion. Yet, if the other person was also inappropriate, don’t let your mistake necessarily justify their actions. You do need to ensure healthy boundaries with others’ appropriate actions even if you did err.

Take the other person’s perspective – Can you imagine any circumstances when the other person’s behavior might be justified? This may take some practice! Yet trust me, the more you stop and try to consider a reasonable explanation for the other person’s apparent rude behavior, the better you will get it. And here’s the payoff – whether what you came up with is accurate or not, it opens your heart to the other person. You ultimately realize that this other person has their own hopes and aspirations, their own fears, their own good traits and their moments when they don’t do so well – characteristics that you also hold. In spite of your outer differences, you ultimately are very much alike.

Don’t take it personally – Taking the other person’s perspective can help you realize that the other person’s actions are really more about them than they are about you.

Determine if a response is needed – Frequently giving the rude behavior no response is the best response. Ignore online comments. Walk away from confrontation. In the big picture, it doesn’t take anything away from you in many cases to simply be silent and remove yourself from inappropriate actions.

When you respond, minimize your emotions – There are times that it is best for you to respond. You need to maintain healthy boundaries with those who are acting inappropriately. Failure to do so could cause you either to be the recipient of further wrong behavior or cause you emotional turmoil. However, if you respond when you are angry, you will generally lead to only more anger from the other person. Find ways to calmly state your position and hold your ground. I often tell people that we are going to have to “agree to disagree” so as to ultimately curtail back-and-forth, tit-for-tat comments.

I have found that the above tips have helped me to deal appropriately with rude behavior. I have also found that the more I honor and respect others and treat each person with dignity as best I can – even in the face of poor behavior – leads me to living in a world where I encounter less and less negative behavior.

The question becomes – what kind of world do you want to live in? If you want to live in a world where people treat each other rudely and confrontation and insensitive actions are the norm, then go ahead. But that’s not the kind of world I want to experience. I would rather live in a world of peace and love and respect – where we value diversity and differences of opinion.

May we always remember that behind our differences, we are all one, we are all the same – and each and every one of us is valuable and lovable. The more that each of us can remember this and live from that awareness, the more we will immunize ourselves with love and end the epidemic of rudeness. Love will guide us to that outcome.

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his very latest one Becoming a Spiritual Change Agent. Check it out!

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Photo credit: Justin Flood / Foter / CC BY-NC