Recline Decline

British Airways has announced that it is eliminating “reclining” seats on some of its economy flights this year.  According to the airline, getting rid of those seats will allow it to offer more low-far options to travelers — presumably because the company will be packing more seats into the economy section.

130212_afw_reclinerairline-crop-promovar-mediumlargeThe new British Airways seats will be set at a “gentle recline” configuration — i.e., two or three inches from the straight-backed dining room chair-type setting — but otherwise immobile.

Speaking as a frequent economy class airline passenger, I am all in favor of BA’s decision, and I hope other airlines quickly follow suit.  I never recline my seat, and I despise people who, as soon as the takeoff chime sounds, recline their seats to the maximum extent and crash into the knees of the passengers in the row behind.  In my view, people who do that are incredibly rude, and obviously are focused totally on themselves.  And really — do the few inches of reclining really make all that much difference, when you consider that you are horribly inconveniencing and cramping the unfortunate people who happen to be seated behind you?

In my view, the immediate/maximum recliners are almost, but not quite, as ill-mannered as the parents of unruly children who shrug when their kids won’t stop kicking the back of the seat in front of them.  If a seat design change eliminates their opportunity to ruin my flight, and allows for more affordable fares at the same time, it’s a great development.

It would be nice if people voluntarily behaved in a civilized fashion, but when they won’t, I’ll happily settle for technological modifications that prevent the rude behavior in the first place.

Airport Sit-Ins

Here’s an another annoying airport development — the gate-sitters.

The gate-sitters have been a growing problem ever since the advent of smartphones, laptops, and charging stations.  They cluster around airport outlets and charging stations, plopping themselves down on the floor and spreading their bags and carry-one and other paraphernalia around them, casually blocking what is supposed to be a public area.  They could stand, of course, and reduce their traffic-blocking footprint, but I guess that would be inconvenient.  So they sit, and take up space, and expect the rest of us to just weave our way around them.

But now the sitters are spreading.  Yesterday as I was waiting to board a plane I observed a twenty-something girl sit cross-legged in the middle of a walking lane at the gate and promptly start thumbing away at her phone.  There were seats available away from the walking areas, but evidently those did not meet her standards. So when people got off the incoming flight, there she was, like an iceberg, blocking traffic and making people with strollers and wheelchairs navigate around her, oblivious to the fact that she was complicating their lives.  

What inferences could you draw about what this young woman was like in her everyday life?  Shallow?  Self-absorbed?  You got it!

The Jerkiness That Spread Around The World

When I was younger, I once read a book called, I think, “The Smile That Went Around The World.”  It told the happy story of a kid who came outside with a happy grin and smiled at a stranger, who then smiled at another stranger, who smiled at another — and on and on, until the smile reached every country and world was one big happy place.  It was a nice thought to instill in small children, who could cling to the idea that they could change the world just by smiling.

Of course, when we reach adulthood we realize that often it takes more than a smile from a stranger to turn someone’s mood around.  But what about the opposite kind of behavior?   How does behaving like a colossal jerk affect others in the vicinity?

rudenessNew studies are indicating that rude behavior does, indeed, spread like a kind of disease.  The studies reveal that being the target of discourtesy, or simply witnessing ill-mannered conduct, tends to induce more rude behavior.  The psychologists posit that seeing loutishness or abusiveness activates parts of our brains that are sensitive to rudeness and triggers an increased likelihood of an impolite response on our part.  Our ungracious response, in turn, can provoke escalating rudeness in others.

Unlike the happy but unrealistic concept of the smile traveling around the world, this research matches our experience in real-life scenarios.  How many times have you been cut off by a thoughtless person who is driving like a jerk and felt a surge of anger and a sudden wild desire to retaliate?  If you’re standing in a line and some jerk tries to cut in front, it’s not unusual to see surly reactions or even a breakdown in the queue.   How often have you seen perfect strangers telling each other off because of some ill-advised conduct, or the mean actions of a supervisor then mimicked by his subordinate?

It’s sad to think that rudeness is so easy to provoke in others — but as we move into the Thanksgiving weekend, we can all be on guard.  We might not be able to send a smile around the world, but at least we can exercise some self-control and stop the spread of boorishness in its tracks.


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.

Being On Time

Recently I had an appointment at a designated time. I was there early. The designated time came and went. About ten minutes late, things finally got underway.

I tried not to let this bug me, but deep down it did.

Growing up, I was taught that it is rude to be late. If you say you will be somewhere at a particular time, you should be there. My grandparents were famous for never being late. They drilled their punctuality habits into UJ and me — and old habits die hard.

I recognize that a few minutes isn’t a big deal, but I’ll always believe that not being on time shows disrespect. The tardy person clearly doesn’t value the on-time person’s time. I think it also shows other things. If you can’t organize your schedule to make your appointments, what else are you failing to manage or account for properly?

Some examples of self-centered tardiness are worse than others. The most egregious example I experienced occurred when a guy I was meeting was 25 minutes late, then showed up with his gym bag and breezily said he’d been working out. Seriously? I readily concluded that the guy was a selfish jerk, and I’ve never changed my mind.

If you want to make a good impression on me, please be on time! If you want to start out with two strikes against you, be late. And if you want to be on my shit list forever, bring along your gym bag, too.

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?

Anti-Social Media

Does social media make people ruder?  One survey says that is the case.  More than 75 percent of the people surveyed say they think people are more likely to be insulting on-line, and almost 20 percent say they have seen people end their “real” relationships after a social media spat.

I don’t know how scientific the survey is, but the results really shouldn’t surprise anyone.  Incivility increases with each step we take that is farther away from face-to-face interaction.  That is because it is not easy to be hurtful and insulting to someone’s face.  You see their reaction, physically, and you think that you wouldn’t want someone to say something mean to your face, either.  The natural tendency therefore is to tone down the rhetoric.  It’s somewhat easier to be rude over the phone, but even then you can hear the hurt in the other party’s voice.

But as you move away from immediate, personal contact, the visual and verbal cues that encourage civil behavior vanish.  Any employment lawyer or HR manager will tell you, with a shake of their head, that people write incredibly harsh, stupid, and ill-advised things in email messages, and the same is true of social media.  People act in the heat of the moment, without reflection or any brake on their offensive impulses, thinking they are being clever when they are really just being crass.  Discourtesy and angry reactions are the inevitable results.

Social media has a lot of advantages as a means of keeping in touch with people, but it also provides a ready mechanism for thoughtlessness on a large scale.  We’d all be better served if we paused before hitting the “post” button and considered how wounding our words might be.