Sharing my theory on rudeness


By Jeff Linville - [email protected]



“Oh yeah, say it to my face.”

I always thought that was one of the dumbest things I ever heard in an argument.

If you can hear the guy talking, then obviously he’s saying it to your face. He’s certainly not talking behind your back.

Among things heard in the bus area of North Surry after classes, that one ranks pretty high up there in stupidity, but far below, “I’m not, but you are.”

Still, as I’ve gotten older, I start to see a bit honesty in that old taunt.

Saying something to someone’s face doesn’t happen as often these days. Not when there are so many different ways to attack someone without ever laying eyes on them.

I have this theory. It goes: a person’s level of rudeness is directly proportional to the distance between them and me.

Some of the most courteous strangers I have ever met were on a transcontinental flight.

You are about to spend four to five hours next to someone in tight airline seats. The last thing you want is to tick off the person next to you and have them grumbling and glaring at you the whole way.

I am not exactly a small person. I weigh 215 pounds and airplane seats don’t really fit me. But once on a flight to San Francisco, I was seated next to a mammoth man who dwarfed me. I wondered how the two of us were going to coexist for the whole afternoon. Then he crossed his arms over his chest and kept them there the entire time. We muttered “sorry” repeatedly when we bumped shoulders.

I started noticing how many times people said “sorry” and “excuse me” on flights — and how less frequently they say that out in public.

Then I noticed that distance seemed to have an impact.

If I were standing in line only a foot or two away from another person, that person tended to be courteous. If we were both pushing shopping carts, and there was a little more distance, then the person seemed less friendly and courteous.

People in parking lots become more rude, then once they get in their cars, they truly become awful.

If they don’t have to see your face at all, people can become extremely rude. Phone calls are easy — say what you want because there’s no chance the offended person can rear back and throw a punch.

The internet has created a brand new term called cyber-bullying. Newspaper editors are certainly not immune. People will type far worse things in a website comment or a Facebook reply than they would ever say in person.

So I guess the old “say it to my face” remark actually makes sense nowadays.

Of course, some folks just don’t get it. There is a good reason you don’t bad-mouth someone to his or her face. While most folks are all talk and no action, occasionally you will come across a person who will take action.

I used to be in a relationship with a woman who had a tendency to speak ill of others in public. And she would often do so in a restaurant in a voice that carried.

I tried to warn her that such talk could have dire consequences. We wouldn’t be able to enjoy our meal if she instigated a fight during the dinner rush. She paid me no mind.

Once we were in a parking lot when a woman rolled down her window and yelled at my companion, saying she was going to kick her rear (in more colorful language). Then a burly man in the other seat leaned over and yelled at me, “Yeah, and I’m gonna kick yours!”

I told her to go on and enter the business while I stayed put and kept an eye on those two. I feared that they would key our car or slash a tire if I went inside. So I stood still and kept eye contact with both of them. I waited for the man to get out of the car and make good on his threat.

After a minute of glaring, the couple decided that they weren’t quite offended enough to try me and drove off.

You see? People aren’t as rude when they get closer to someone. My theory holds.

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By Jeff Linville

[email protected]

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

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