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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

On Modern Discourtesy

Some months ago, I met an interesting man on an Acela train. The former soldier of an allied nation and early volunteer in the Afghanistan war, he had joined his nation's military at sixteen, later earning a science doctorate and currently traveling to Washington for conferences. While keyboarding, I accidentally bumped his arm and he quickly said, "Excuse me." I said, "Boy, you're really polite," and he responded, "Yes, my wife trained me."


Whether his gentility reflected the influence of his wife or his background I couldn't say but it began my thinking about courtesy. Yesterday, while in a drive-in banking line, I waited for minutes while the driver in front of me, whose business had apparently been completed, remained unmoving, doing whatever. Finally giving up, I drove around him and walked into the bank with my deposit and complaint, asking why the teller couldn't suggest that tardy customers move on. "We can't do that," came her reply. I suggested that a warning beep sound after one minute of the completion of business, which will never happen.


Another pervasive discourtesy is the seat-reclining problem on trains and planes. Which I never do, just as I'm careful about driving courteously (avoiding other cars is safest too). But many people aren't, arousing the crazed rage of people who feel "disrespected," an increasingly used adjective which will hopefully soon disappear.


Some of this behavior may be cultural. Americans, as opposed to Europeans, are more sensitive to what they consider their "personal space." Thus on a three-seater train row in Europe, the newcomer will sit beside the seated passenger, leaving the outside seat free for another passenger, while in America the new passenger will leave the middle seat empty to preserve their "space."


One wonders about the early life parenting of those engaging in unneeded social battles or perhaps it is simply what a teenager recently told me, "Some people got their head up their ass."

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