Political Correctness Versus Politeness

Donald Trump is a colossal jerk, but in some perverse ways he is serving a useful function.  Through his appalling behavior, he is helping to illustrate why soft-side skills and manners — those little behavioral mores that any advanced society inevitably will develop over time — are crucial in our world.

Trump castigates the culture of political correctness in America, arguing that it is a kind of straitjacket that distracts us and, in some instances, prevents us from meaningfully addressing the realities of our world.  Many think that overarching concepts of political correctness have, in fact, become a wet blanket that stifles free speech and allows people to object to the phrasing of a message in order to avoid grappling with its substance.  But there is a big difference between political correctness and simple politeness, and with his comments about women generally, and Megyn Kelly specifically, Donald Trump has once again blundered across the line.

Don’t tell me that Trump’s comments are just a rebellious rejection of the PC mentality, as if he is a Gulliver held down by the social constraints of Lilliputian sensitivities.  Instead, apply the Mother or Grandmother Test:  Would your Mom be proud of you if, in articulating your disagreement with a woman, you made an unseemly comment about her menstrual cycle?  My Mom or grandmothers sure wouldn’t — and I’m guessing the same would be true for just about everyone.

This isn’t because of political correctness, it’s because of basic concepts of decency and courtesy and etiquette.  Most people are aware of the importance of these qualities and strive to achieve them; Donald Trump evidently doesn’t because he is too ill-mannered and uncultured and egotistical to even recognize their essential value.

Donald Trump will never be President, of course, because ultimately even those who now are enamored of his “outspokenness” will come to recognize that you would never want such a coarse boob acting as the face of America.  I think that realization will happen sooner rather than later, and Trump’s thin-skinned idiocy is helping to bring that inevitable result about and teaching some useful lessons in the process.

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The Lure Of Niceness

This morning I was boarding a flight from Denver back to Columbus.  The Denver airport as a madhouse, the security lines apparently were record-breaking in their length, and there was a certain grim-faced tension in the air.  But the gate for the flight to Columbus was an oasis of . . . niceness.

They called the groups, and there wasn’t the customary sharp-elbowed clustering around the entrance way to the gate.  As my group was called, I motioned a young woman to go ahead of me, and then a young guy motioned me to go ahead of him.  The young woman shook her head, looked at me, and asked:  “Is everyone in Columbus so nice?”

IMG_5880I asked her what she meant, and she said that she had just gotten off a flight where the jostling for seats and carry-on space had gotten uncomfortably close to outright anger between passengers.  The willingness to let others go first and accept that, yes, your seat would still be there was amazing to her.  “Well, I can’t say that everyone in Columbus is nice, but it is the Midwest,” I responded.  “People say hello to each other, smile at each other on the street, and don’t mind having a pleasant conversation with a stranger in a public place.”

She was coming to Columbus for a conference and decided to make a vacation out of it, and we chatted briefly about some things to do here.  When I wished her a good trip, she said she was looking forward to her visit and that it would be great to go to a place where people were actually pleasant to each other.

Columbus — we may not have mountains, or oceans, or lakes, but what we lack in striking natural beauty we make up in politeness.

The Unforgivable Male Flip-Flopper

Tonight I was in a hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and a guy was there wearing flip-flops.  As we walked down the hall he flapped loudly along, drawing our attention down to floor level, and we all got to admire his feet.

IMG_3305Call me a crank, but I think a guy wearing flip flops in a hospital at night is unforgivably impolite.  I don’t mind people of both sexes wearing flip flops at a pool, or on the beach, or at an informal backyard barbecue on a hot summer night.  I give kids a pass, too.  But there is a time and a place for everything, and a grown man wearing flip flops in a public building when the temperature is about 56 degrees outside is just not right.  When you add in the fact that it’s a hospital it seems even more inappropriate.

I know we’ve gotten increasingly informal in our society and become accepting of things that once would have been unthinkable.  I’m old enough to remember when people actually got dressed up for airplane flights; now when you board a plane you often feel like you’ve intruded upon an over-sized sweatpants modeling convention.  We’ve become a society of appalling slobs.

I recognize that, in the grand scheme of things, a guy wearing flip-flops in a hospital at night isn’t the worst offense a person can commit — but I also believe in the “broken windows” theory that holds that little things, if left uncorrected, can lead to social disorder.  A guy wearing flip-flops is a harbinger of chaos.  This is where we need to draw the line.

When A Person’s An Ass

Today the Red Sox fan and I went out to lunch.  When we got to the restaurant, it was jammed.  We waited patiently, and the friendly hostess ultimately said she could seat us at a bar area in the rear of the restaurant.

We walked to the back of the restaurant, she left the menus on the bar counter top, and then she walked back to the front.  When the RSF and I pulled out the chairs to sit, the guy in the next seat over said, loudly, “Don’t sit there.”

“Excuse me?”

“You can’t sit there,” he said harshly.

“The hostess gave us these seats,” the Red Sox Fan said, reasonably.

“I don’t care what she did.  We’re a party of seven, there are two more of us, and that’s where they’re sitting.”

This presented a choice for the RSF and me.  We could get into a public argument with a colossal ass, or practice the fine art of avoidance, swallow our anger at being treated so rudely, and return to the front of the restaurant.  We chose the latter course.  The hostess wasn’t happy with the jerk, either, and promptly seated us elsewhere — but the whole incident left a bad taste in our mouths.

I don’t mind that the people were saving seats, although they obviously should have told the hostess when she escorted us back and left the menus on the bar.  Even so, the guy could at least have been polite about telling us — perhaps by saying something like “Excuse me, I’m sorry, but we are saving those seats for two of our friends” instead of treating us like gutter slime or some hapless peasants trying to sit at the king’s table.

Why are some people such asses?  Do some miserable people get their kicks from being unnecessarily rude to complete strangers?  I have no desire to sink to that level and trade rudeness for rudeness, but it’s rankling.

A Poll On Politeness

Tonight Kish and I went to dinner with friends. We had a nice meal with great company, but the evening also involved an off-putting instance of what I considered to be incredibly rude behavior.

The scenario was as follows. We had reservations for 7 p.m. — the heart of the Midwestern dinner period. When we got to the restaurant, the hostess said the people at our designated table were done with their meal and would be leaving soon. A few minutes later, we were escorted back to the table by a waitress, but the people were still there. The waitress apologized. Rather than head back to the hostess station, we stepped over to the nearby bar area, in plain sight of the table, and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited.

I know the people at the table saw us, because one of their party glanced over at us from time to time. It was obvious we were waiting for them to leave. But they continued chatting gaily over their empty table, and even got a refill of their water glasses as we stood by the bar. Eventually the restaurant found a new table for us, and when we were seated the people were still there, occupying a table and apparently unconcerned that they were inconveniencing others.

It’s a small matter, perhaps — but I never would have lingered at a table under those circumstances, knowing that other people were waiting. Am I wrong in considering the people at the table to be grossly inconsiderate jerks?

Cursing Ohio

According to data published in The Atlantic, Ohioans tend to be ill-mannered jerks. The data was gathered from more than 600,000 recorded calls — to service reps, banks, and other businesses in more than 30 industries that advise you that your call to them might be recorded.  The recorded calls were sifted to identify the obscenities, and then sorted by state.  The results showed that we Buckeyes are far more likely to swear than, say, people who live in Washington or Massachusetts.  What’s more, Ohioans also are among the callers least likely to say please and thank you.

Why is this so?  Ohioans are usually a pretty mild-mannered bunch.  We live in the middle of the country.  Our population is divided between urban and rural, blue collar and white collar, Republican and Democrat, and we manage to get along just fine.  We don’t have the reputation for arrogance of, say, Californians, and aren’t known for rudeness like New Yorkers are.  So what gives?

The answer is simple.  Ohio is home to the Cleveland Browns.  I’d be willing to wager that the vast majority of the cursing communications were recorded on Sunday nights during the fall, after the Browns have managed to fumble away another game.  When your team somehow manages to lose a 12-point lead with less than two minutes in the game — and that’s a routine result — all you can really do is launch invective at the heavens or, alternatively, the poor schnook who has fielded your call about whether there’s some way to fix that plasma TV screen you just kicked in.

Presumed Familiarity, Feigned Interest

One other point about the wedding we attended on Friday:  weddings are an interesting opportunity to observe basic human social interactions.

Consider wedding reception tables, for example.  If you’re a member of the family you might be seated with other family members, or if you’re an old college chum you might be noshing with dormitory buddies.  If you’re just a random friend, however, you’re likely to be assigned to a table where most of the seats are filled by complete strangers.  That’s what we got on Friday.

It’s interesting how quickly you reach conclusions about people under those circumstances.  The woman seated to my right — whom I’d never met before — swept in, introduced herself as an old friend of the family, and then promptly launched into a long, inane story about her son, whom none of us knew, and his living arrangements in New York City which included some kind of terrible bathroom.  The story was apparently pointless, aside from the fact that it gave this woman something to talk about.  After five minutes or so, when she paused for a breath and then started to move into a story about her son’s roommate from Texas — an unknown person even farther removed from our realities — someone stepped in to end the woman’s tedious monopolization of conversation at the table.

As the interminable apartment bathroom story was underway, the other people at the table feigned polite interest in the meandering tale but exchanged some meaningful glances.  I’d guess that most of us immediately concluded that the woman was hopelessly self-absorbed and unwilling to engage in the normal social niceties — which require that you at least ask strangers some questions about their lives before you bore the pants off of them with a tale as long as Beowulf.

After that gruesome introduction, I shifted my attention to the left and tried to avoid any head turns to the right, lest the woman pull out her cell phone and begin to inflict a show of photos of her family, friends, and pets and tedious anecdotes about the latest family vacation.