I’ve thought that for a while now. Rudeness doesn’t come from a place of strength. A person who feels empowered to affect their environment doesn’t need to be rude. Maybe they still will be, but the rudeness of the powerful is more likely to be thoughtlessness; they are too oriented to their own goals to pay enough attention to others.
Active rudeness, though, comes from the powerless. It’s their way of shoving back against a world that shoves them around every day. It’s why the voices of the poor are louder than the voices of the rich. It’s why the wealthy go to symphony and the poor blast Eminem. FUCK YOU. I AM HERE AND YOU WILL NOT IGNORE ME. Those who feel powerful don’t need to make that assertion. Of course they won’t be ignored. Their hourly rates or their books or the message that their groomed and well-clad bodies send ensure that.
To be courteous you have to feel strong. You have to believe that your words and actions affect others. (Remember the brilliant “30 Rock” when Liz goes to her high-school reunion, only to discover that the popular girls had actually been terrified of her and her sharp tongue? She’d assumed nothing her dorky self would say could have ever hurt them.) You have to believe that you have agency, that you can act, not merely react to circumstances. You have to believe that you have other ways of getting status and attention — which we all need — besides impinging on the physical or psychological space of others.
I’ve been thinking about that for a long time, and this article on Salon, about an unemployed man’s little compensatory ritual of rudeness, spurred me to put it into words.
A Facebook friend of mine recently posted the following quote by Anna Deavere Smith: “Grace is in how we treat each other when we could choose to exert power and we find another way.” I don’t know the context, so I don’t know if I agree with the statement or not, but I think it’s a lot easier to be graceful when you have access to legitimate avenues of power.
People who don’t get listened to start to scream.
People who aren’t given enough space start to push.
People who get cut out of the main action will start their own. And you may not like it.
What are your thoughts?
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