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Rude and Inconsiderate Behavior: Declining Civility in America

Thoughtlessness is at Alarming Levels in the U.S.

I recently returned from a trip to Florida and kept notes on the various types of rude and thoughtless behavior of those I observed or interacted with during the trip. While I am a frequent critic of ethics in America and the loss of civility, I hadn’t focused on another aspect of such behavior which grows from selfishness to inconsideration of others. As you read this blog think of your own experiences. Are you guilty of such behavior? If so, please consider that those around you might be offended by your actions and that our behavior should always be based on how our actions affect others if we are to be an ethical society. If you, like I, have been offended by such behavior, then please consider writing me and adding to the list based on your experiences. For blog size limitation-purposes and to make this blog more interesting, I’ve listed the behaviors in a ‘top five’ list.

5. Using one’s fingers to eat food on a plate that is not ribs or other ‘finger-eating’ food.

Given what we know about hygiene and cleanliness, this one is beyond my comprehension.

4. Cutting in line to be serviced before others.

I’ve seen this at movie theaters and supermarkets where someone walks up to a long line and takes his/her place in the middle stating that I just went to get something from my car a shelf, or provides some other lame reason.

3. Talking in the movie theater/smart phone left on.

Regardless of the admonition not to do it, including Geico’s ‘Hump Day Camel’ commercial, people still leave their cell phones on and some talk to their neighbor during the movie. I don’t get it. This is like smoking in the theater – it’s a faux pas.

2. Cutting you off on the highway and speeding up when you are trying to change lanes into the lane that person is in. I guess this is a way of saying I own this lane. Get out of my way. The other driver may think you are rude in trying to change lanes but as long as it done safely, it’s the other driver who is rude by speeding up to make it more difficult for you to change lanes.

1. Taking your shoes off and bearing one’s naked feet in public.

I observed this behavior both in movie theaters and the airplane. It’s gross to say the least. What makes a person believe others around them want to look at their feet?

These are only basic etiquette items that I have listed. I have not included the most offensive of the rude behaviors including: inappropriate sexual advances/words/actions; discriminatory/hate speech; and bullying/cyber-bullying. These are occurring with alarming frequency in part due to the availability of social media sites.

Civility is a basic ethical value of the Founding Fathers. George Washington addressed it when he transcribed Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation. He included actions of the times that were considered inappropriate. While the times have changed since then, the notion of civility as an important American value has not even though Congress and other political leaders seem to violate it all the time. Talk show hosts seem to have embraced incivility and rudeness in speech as part of their DNA.

I conclude with a little known citation from my world of academe. Professor P.M. Forni at John Hopkins University co-founded the Johns Hopkins Civility Project in 1997.  He is quoted as saying: “Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another. It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health. Taking an active interest in the well-being of our community and concern for the health of our society is also involved in civility.”

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on January 2, 2014