I hate rude behavior in a man. I won’t tolerate it.
The Lonesome Dove character Woodrow Call earned my husband’s undying admiration with that line, spoken after he had beat a man half to death for striking young Newt.
If Woodrow were around today, he might have plenty of beatings to dish out.
The rise of rudeness in the recent years has been attributed to deepening political polarization – particularly during the pandemic. People cooped up under COVID-19 lock-downs got increasingly irritable, and understandably so. Having prominent politicians constantly on the airwaves berating and/or insulting someone didn’t help matters.
Civil discourse – what’s that?
Not surprisingly, the word “incivility” is on the rise in literary usage, having reached its low point in 1982 after a steady decline from a peak in 1824.
A podcast called “Hidden Brain” focused on the topic in an April 11 episode. It was noted that witnessing rude behavior – whether it’s a store clerk being berated by angry customers or someone getting into a public fight – can have long-lasting effects on our minds. The show’s guest, behavioral scientist Christine Porath, reported on studies of impact and outlined ways to shield oneself from the toxic effects of incivility.
I was surprised to hear that people don’t have to be the targets of rude behavior to be pretty extensively impacted by it. Simply witnessing it has shown to reduce cognitive ability by as much as 30 percent, and people were less able to remember things, which can result in mistakes.
Witnessing rude behavior can also hamper creativity, and alter the types of creative ideas someone has. Participants in a study were asked to list as many uses as they could think of for a building brick. Maybe a flower garden edge, paper weight or other innocuous use. However, the group of people who were exposed to rude behavior prior to making the list came up with much more aggressive and negative uses – breaking windows or placing it where someone would trip, for instance.
What was slightly scary to me was the fact that witnessing incivility can lead people to unintentionally “pay it forward” and it becomes like a virus that spreads.
That theory about avoiding negative people in order to improve your own positive outlook just got reinforced.
We can only control ourselves, Porath points out, so doing what we can to manage our own positive energy is the best way to ward off the noxious effects of incivility.
Porath notes that it is human nature to respond with rudeness if confronted with rudeness, but people should make an effort to resist that not only because of the “virus” aspect, but because the rudeness may have been unintentional, or have been a matter of perception or differences in culture.
And some people simply lack self-awareness, meaning they don’t have a good grasp of their own character. Porath says that only 10-15 percent of people are truly accurate about how they are perceived by others. Wow.
This was especially interesting to me, and I’m going to make an effort to watch for this now. I’m one of those who will immediately reflect the person’s tone if they come at me with attitude, and this has increased the past few years. But I’m going to work on this. So, if you say something rude to me, don’t be surprised if I stare at you blankly for a minute and then nod knowingly. I will have decided if I think you’re an outright rude person, or that you’re clueless about having just been a rude person.
Another issue for me will then be to decide if that determination had anything to do with my perception of the comment’s rudeness based on my own self-awareness. It’s all so complicated.
During this podcast I also learned about a Johari Window, which is a technique for improving self-awareness and communication skills. Basically, it’s a window with four panes, with the top edge being things known and unknown to yourself, and the side being things known and unknown to others. This makes the top left pane represent things that are known both to you and others. Optimally, this would be the biggest pane because the most effective communication would occur in this scenario. The bottom right pane would include things that you not only keep hidden from others, but that you don’t even know about yourself.
The top right pane is known as the “blind spot” and includes things others know about you, but you don’t realize. The opposite corner containing things you know but keep hidden can also be an obstacle.
In a group setting with everyone having a goal to make their top left window panes larger, they give and receive feedback to accomplish this. With us all working individually on our windows, it will be more difficult.
Perhaps to create shortcut I may study someone for a moment before I ask loud enough for everyone around to hear: “Is it just me, or was that rude?”
Would that be rude?
A better shortcut might be to just BE NICE. Even if you haven’t witnessed someone being unkind to the person you’re interacting with, chances are they have been.
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