View From The Middle
What ever happened to politeness? I know it was around here somewhere, but it seems to have slipped away somehow. One would think that, with the Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Idul-Adha seasons (heretofore called “holidays”) upon us, people would be more conscious of having good manners — no, better manners than usual — seeing as Santa and his entourage are keeping tabs on the naughty and nice.
Most of us have been taught that it’s better to be nice; to be outgoing and considerate and genteel and...well, you know, all those things Mom intended for us to be from the start but it seems never quite got around to following through on completely. It’s understandable, I suppose, seeing as it’s hard enough to keep an 8-year-old kid from squirming in his seat while he eats dinner with the family, and reprimanding him about not eating with his mouth open, really doesn’t do much good. On the other hand, the kid remembers these awkward moments when he grows up and, while he’s dining with the big shots before pulling off that big business deal, you bet he remembers even that little comeuppance. Thanks, Mom!
The subject was brought about by a little boy who was sitting in the wagon in front of me in the supermarket cashier’s line the other day. The youngster was, oh, about five, maybe six years old; blond hair; blue eyes; right out of the cover of Parents Maga-zine...except, when he sneezed and I said, dutifully, “Bless you!,” he spit at me! Yeah! Spit! No, it wasn’t part of the sneeze. He finished that, wiped his nose on his sleeve and just plain wound up and spit! At me! Spit!
Now, realizing the youngster was the age that he was, I was of course taken back, but quickly taking my handkerchief out and wiping the front of my jacket, I snickered and quietly turned away (I mean, what more can one say?) when the child’s mother yelled at me, “Now what did you say to him that would make him do that?”
“I said, ‘Bless you!’,” I told her.
“I’ll just BET you did,” the woman said, and huffed off. I wasn’t about to pursue her or the conversation any further. Just take the embarrassment and be done with it, I thought. Nowadays, the less a male stranger has to do with a blond, blue-eyed six-year-old boy, the better! I admit, though, that I did expect the mother to offer an apology of some kind; or at least a polite expression of empathy. Ah, well. I would have loved to tell her, “I’ve been spat on by bigger kids than your kid, lady!”
Joking aside, it did set me to thinking of how politeness in our society has waned lately.
Or is it me?
I’m serious when I say it is almost rare to see a young man (or woman) hold a door open for someone older than he or she. Maybe if it’s not too inconvenient, okay, but you won’t see too many going out of their way to help. Same thing goes for helping the proverbial little old lady cross the street. I was driving on Flatlands Avenue the other day — waiting for a traffic light to change — when I saw that very scene. The woman wanted to cross at East 86th Street and was having trouble at the curb. A group of teenage girls was walking by and none of them stopped to help (in answer to your next question, yes, I did stop the car and help her — not to pat myself on the back for that gesture, but it does drive home the point, to a degree).
The lack of politeness, manners, consideration, or whatever you want to call it, of course, stems directly from the home life. And there’s the rub.
Think: CELL PHONES!
I probably don’t even have to go further, except to say that the children get all their input about cell phones and their use from their parents — or adults, anyway. Generally speaking, the kids shouldn’t get to use those things until they’re of an age at least where they can handle them. Then they should be taught to handle them correctly and with a little consideration for those around them — not like Mommy or Daddy does, whipping them out in a restaurant or barber shop or boutique or in the post office line so everyone within hearing distance is, uh, within hearing distance. I refer you to a commercial heard on the radio these days where a woman is on a city bus talking to a friend on her cell phone — loudly — and during the conversation she is heard to say to the friend, “Oh, these people? (referring to the other bus riders) Nah...That’s too bad. I’ll never see them again anyway.”
And that seems to be the philosophy nowadays. Don’t give a damn about those around you.
Giving a damn is what politeness is all about. It’s called being civilized.
However, if you happen to see a stern, plain looking Mommy pushing an adorable blond, blue-eyed six-year-old demonized kid in a supermarket wagon, you will be allowed to let that civilized side of you drop into the shadows — for just a smidgen of a second — and...YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO...