Saturday, October 10, 2015

Why Politeness Needs to Die

      I am vehemently anti-politeness. I have to come to this conclusion after years of self-reflection and general observation. The entire concept of being "polite" needs to curl up and die. Maybe it's because I was born and raised in the South where there is that supposed Southern White, Abled, Middle Class, Christian, Patriarchal Hopsitality, but politeness was always emphasized to me growing up. I was expected to do and say specific things because it was polite. I was expected to respond in a certain way because it was polite. And I'm calling bullshit.

    Now, before anyone burns me at the stake, let me explain what I am vehemently for- I am for kindness. I am for being loving and kind towards my fellow humans and the rest of this gorgeous planet. I am for being considerate of others because that should be the default way in which we treat each other. I am for cultivating peacefulness and gentleness in the way we interact and relate to each other and the world around us.
Notice how the focus is on how you are perceived
and treated, not on being kind to others.
 Being polite to "get" something.

    So what's the distinction, you ask? Well, for some people there may not be any. But for me, at least the way it was presented to me or the way I perceived it until just recently in my adult life, being polite was something you had to do out of social custom. It was what "good" children and adults did. It was the opposite of rude. If you didn't want to be though rude, you had to be polite. And rudeness was "bad". And so I spent most of my life being polite as some kind of behavioralist reflex to certian cues and situations because all I knew is if I didn't, I was bad. And in some ways that meant I was an absolute door mat. And all I can think is how much different I would have perceived my place in the world is that instead of being polite, I was told to be kind.
sic [People]

   We say please and thank you because it's kind to let people know we appreciate them. The use gentle words because it is kind. We wait our turn, lower our voices in crowded places, etc. because it is kind to those around us. Not because it's some constructed social custom that we do or face social penalty. Because we are striving to be kind to one another. And because we need to also be kind to ourselves, we have to have boundaries. And this is one of the biggest lessons I think politeness fails to instill. Because it's ok to be rude sometimes. Sometimes it's even necessary. And when we set up this polite-rude dichotomy, we severely limit our range of acceptable emotional responses.

   Especially as a female, the need to be polite is hammered into to everything you do. This concept has been connected through all kinds of problematic situations, like rape culture and the ever present "friend zone" concept. It already marginalized people feeling the need to apologize for taking up space and not feeling empowered to take up more for fear of being rude or off-putting.

   So for me, what does this look like in action? It's not buying into the ageist practice of using titles for a person just because they may be older than you. If a person wants to be called Mrs. Whatever or Sir or Ma'am, it is kind to oblige because it is considerate of their comfort level and costs a person nothing. Showing gratitude is important, but that doesn't have to be in the form of some preconceived phrase. Body language and tone, especially in children who may not be able to spew out their rehearsed responses, especially in times of excitement, is just as sufficient. Intention over formality. A begrudging "thank you" shouldn't be more meaningful than a squeal of excitement. A forced "I'm sorry" is pointless.

   When we get so caught up in the formality that we are teaching the wrong lessons and implying the wrong values, I can no longer feign support. So to the concept of politeness, I bid you adieu. I will practice kindness. And I will teach kindness to my offspring. And I will not loose one ounce of sleep if they forget to spit out a "thank you" or "sir". And I will not allow people to treat me poorly and smile silently until I can politely excuse myself. Because that's not kind.