I was seated on my behind in a parking lot changing a flat tire on my old pickup truck when an older white gentleman came up out of nowhere. Dressed as I was in tattered jeans, a white tee shirt stained with ketchup and fried chicken grease and a black knit cap, my knee-jerk reaction was a fear that perhaps he thought I was stealing hubcaps. Yikes, was a bullet or cop soon to pay me a visit?
But I was wrong. Boy was I wrong.
“I have a tire inflator that should help,” he offered. He retrieved it, connected it and, voila, within minutes I was on my way home. I couldn’t thank him enough, wanted to give him a big hug but worried that others might think that based on my attire, a mugging was underway.
This gentleman’s random act of kindness over a flat tire was so refreshing. Basic niceness seems to have been flushed down the toilet of hate speech, vitriol and garden variety nastiness that’s swept our nation and crippled our discourse over the last few years, 2016 in particular.
Which takes me to some questions I posed a few years ago, ones that are as relevant today as ever:
Do you sense that plain-old courtesy seems to be slipping away? Are there noticeable increases in curtness, moodiness and standoffishness? Are instances of road rage on the rise? Are we facing a pandemic of rudeness, or are some folks just overly sensitive?
There’s little disagreement that something is amiss in the way we interact nowadays. We can point the finger to fear of change, of demographic shifts, of loss of privilege, of “foreigners,” all exacerbated by the recent contentious presidential election and aided and abetted by the media, social media in particular where “brave” folks can hide behind their PCs and hurl out their bile without consequence.
But just how widespread is this trend of incivility? Is it on the rise in the workplace, in airport and supermarket lines, in restaurants and at sporting events? At every turn it seems that the decline of civility and simultaneous upticks in disrespect seem to be becoming more of an issue nowadays.
In an article, “Tit For Tat? The Spiraling Effect of Incivilities in the Workplace,” in The Academy of Management Review, Lynne Anderson writes: “The business world was thought to be one of the last bastions of civility. However, greater employee diversity, re-engineering, downsizing, budget cuts, pressures for more productivity and autocratic work environments have contributed to an increase in incivilities.” The same can be said about behaviors in public places as well.
Now not to let anyone off the hook, me included, the fact is that sometimes we all revert to behaviors that fall into the realm of incivilities and disrespect. And such behaviors are probably more of an issue during times of uncertainty, these days for example, when people tend to be more on edge. But where do you draw the line between slights, incivility, outright boorishness and sheer jerkiness? Well, civility is not only possible but within relatively easy reach.
Here are some possibilities. Afterwards, think about what else you would add to the list:
- Exercise patience when you’re put on hold during a call, in a long line while in public or trying to understand someone with a difficult to understand accent.
- Avoid inflammatory language, e.g., profanity and gestures (nix the “middle finger’ salute)
- Alert the person sitting behind you on a plane when you’re about to lower your seat.
- Allow someone to cut in line in front of you in heavy traffic (and when someone lets you in give them a wave of thanks). Don’t tailgate!
- Sneak a peek at the name tag of someone providing you service and say it before, during and immediately after the interaction.
- Resist firing off at someone on social media when something is posted that bothers you.
- Look for opportunities to whoop and holler, to roll over in laughter with someone who doesn’t look like, think or believe what you believe. Don’t underestimate the power of laughter.
- And don’t forget those proven random acts of civility – like saying “hello,” “thank you,” how’s the family?” and “great job!” (All with a smile) – or just opening the door for or offering your seat to someone.
Oh, yeah, before I forget, be willing to offer a helping hand – or air inflator – when you come across someone changing a flat tire.
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