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Why Is Everyone So Rude?

By Debbie Mandel

I was traveling to Manhattan via the railroad. I love riding the train as I can relax and reflect. Usually, I observe the people near me. Unfortunately, I am also forced to overhear their conversations. It’s not snooping when people speak loudly on a cell phone, more like a conference call. On this particular trip, two female college students sat down in front of me as I moved aside to let a woman sit on the inside seat next to mine. Suddenly, one of the college students panicked, asking me and my seat-neighbor to help her look for her monthly railroad pass. She frantically searched her pockets, knapsack and pointed to the floor underneath our feet. After a few frenetic minutes, I overheard her tell her friend that she found her pass. She did not bother to let us know that the search was officially over. “Kids are so disorganized and stressed these days!” I remarked to my seat-neighbor. The woman laughed, “And so rude too.”

How ironic since I was doing a radio show on civility the next day! If we look closely at this scenario we can find two examples of rudeness: a woman speaking loudly on her cell phone and not caring about being rude to strangers she would probably never see again and a thankless college student who was highly stressed. When the doors to Penn station opened, the crowded train stood up to dash out. My seat-neighbor rose and I motioned to her to step in front of me; otherwise no one would let her pass until the train emptied out. She seemed uncomfortable, like I was going to steal her purse or put a gun to her back. I gently coaxed, “Don’t be scared. I’m not going to hurt you. I am just being polite.” She laughed nervously. I continued, “You should see your eyes, the fear I mean.” We both laughed and then she said, “Have a nice day,” and rushed away with a remaining hint of suspicion.

We are so unaccustomed to polite behavior that we are actually frightened by it. In addition, we have become cynical, believing that a kind act has a hidden agenda. Rudeness is fueled by stress. Consider road rage which turns a regular person into a potential killer because his or her stress has spiraled out of control. Many of us go through life in a perpetual road rage, running over people’s emotions, especially those we love. The more stressed we are, the more we think other people are out to get us. As we grow irritable, we become abrupt and critical. When we keep criticizing others, this becomes a measure of how little we like ourselves.

How do we deal with rudeness and avoid being rude ourselves?
  • Keep yourself in alignment. There is an ugly side to stress which causes us to dismiss others to assert our power or vent our anger when people say no to us.
  • Watch how you talk to yourself. If you are unkind to yourself you will be unkind to others.
  • Work on fortifying your identity. If you feel inferior, this will make you feel trivialized when other people don’t notice you or are abrupt because they are having a hard day.
Remember, you don’t have to absorb anyone’s bad mood. You will think everyone is doing it to you! However, no one can trivialize you, unless you let him. The holidays are coming. Family members who don’t see each other often get together at the dinner table. Inevitably barbs and tactless questions will push some old buttons. Be prepared with humorous quips, rehearsed answers and clever conversation about topics like the weather or sports. In stress-management it is always easier to prevent than to treat.
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: