Unleashing a Plague of Politeness

Yesterday as my American Business Women’s Association meeting was ending, someone asked me a question. It was a question I thought others might want answered, so I walked quickly up to the person who had spoken and asked her to answer it out loud for the whole group to hear. Sounds like a wise move, doesn’t it?

Except I barged in and interrupted a conversation she was in the midst of. Afterwards, I thought about how rude that was, and I got angry at myself.

See, I had been feeling all self-righteous for a week. (Yeah, that never ends well. I should know better.)

Last week both Les and I had experienced incidents on the road that appalled us. I had approached an intersection—where I would be turning right (but my signal was not on yet)—and watched the person coming from the right power right through the stop sign so he/she would be in front of me if I had gone straight. Even worse, the day before, Les had approached a four-way stop when a car coming from the right ran the stop sign, racing around the corner toward Les, and the little Mennonite girl driving glared at him as though he were in the wrong.

When the Mennonites are being rude, you know we have an epidemic on our hands.

Whether it’s loud cell-phone talkers (the kind Jen Hatmaker wished would go away today), or people who walk through a public door and let it slam in your face because they never even noticed you were behind them, or drivers who pull into my lane so they can pass the buggy in theirs, even if I have to stop or pull onto the shoulder, rudeness is rampant.

So for a week I have been thinking we need to unleash a plague of politeness to counteract the self-absorbed rudeness. When I was behind drivers going even slower than I do (because God MAKES me do the speed limit) I muttered “plague of politeness” to myself like a mantra and stayed off their tail. As I entered buildings, I held the door open so those leaving could exit first and also looked behind me for those coming along. I didn’t answer my phone or check Facebook while I was with someone else.

Then yesterday I bumbled into Rudeness 101: interrupting a conversation. I mean, really, didn’t our mothers teach us not to do that as toddlers?

But when life is all about me, what I need or want, even if I want it for someone else, it’s easy to be rude. And when everyone else is rude, it just becomes the norm.

This morning I sent the two ABWA women an e-mail apology and started over.

Maybe you can join me in attempting to spread a plague of politeness in our everyday world:

  • Look around you
  • Defer to someone else.
  • Put down the phone.
  • Smile.
  • Stop at the stop sign or stoplight.
  • Listen.
  • Wait your turn.

Oh, and teach your children not to interrupt. Hopefully it will stick better than my mom’s teaching.

Tonight I read this in Anne Lamott’s book Stitches, and I think it sums up what I would like a plague of politeness to be:

Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice.

Here’s to decency that builds.

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