The Trials and Tribulations of Politeness

Here’s the thing about politeness – I hate it.

Not ALL of it, of course; I just wanted an eye-catching opener. I value the importance of smiling at people and saying please and thank you and not being a blundering A-hole at all hours of the day/night. But I do have a bone to pick with how embedded within our culture politeness is, when it impairs communication and logic.

For example, let’s assume that I’m at an event and I am somewhat intoxicated. I can still move and speak perfectly fine; the security guards don’t hate me yet. But my inhibitions and ability to read body language have been lowered. I see a girl with beautiful, probably super curly or super soft-looking hair. I approach the girl and ask, “Can I touch your hair?” Because I am that creep who just loves touching the hair of strangers.

I have given the girl an out if she is uncomfortable, so let’s assume that she is. Maybe she spent a lot of time doing her hair that night, or maybe she just doesn’t enjoy being touched by random drunk strangers (like a normal person) But she can’t think of a way to say no without potentially hurting my feelings, being rude or making it awkward. So she says yes. And I touch her hair. And she doesn’t like it. And that’s not okay.

While some drunken hair stroking at a bar isn’t exactly a remarkable issue, it’s this idea of politeness that causes a lot of issues in our social lives. She, and anyone else who I ask things of, should have a right to tell me honestly. “No, that’s weird, go away.” “I would rather if you stopped trying to hug me.” “Why are you crying about how much you miss your cat on my shoulder? I don’t know you, please leave.” This is when politeness has interfered with communication and has become redundant, as said person grows a deep resentment towards me and my overly touchy ways. I make a point of trying to ask people if I can touch them before I do, or asking what their boundaries are on physical touch in general when we first meet. This is their opportunity to tell me what is too much, but so often they lie to protect my feelings. What about their feelings? Surely setting and respecting boundaries is a worthy price to pay for being considered ‘rude’.

It’s similar to the phrase, “Sharing is caring.” Listen, my dudes, if I am eating a sandwich, and I don’t want to share my sandwich, that is my sandwich. No one is entitled to my sandwich but me. It’s very kind to share, but not a requirement to qualify for being a nice person. There are of course more extreme circumstances where the validity of this argument may lesson (If you sit down next to a homeless person who hasn’t eaten in three days and try to force down twelve Big Macs and laugh at them when they request one, you’re probably kind of a dick – and unhealthy, because that is way too many calories and saturated fats and processed sugars for one day but that’s besides the point) but in everyday circumstance, there is too much expectation on people to throw their possessions at others in an attempt to not be considered an A-hole.

I also can’t stand politeness when it comes to evading logic. Bringing back the sandwich example, let’s imagine that I have a friend who is going to Subway to get herself some food. I say, “Hey, while you’re there, can you get me a *Insert order here*” and I throw the necessary funds at her, maybe write it down too to make it easier. A very basic, on-the-menu-already order. She says, “Okay, but I get half of your sandwich.”

Ummm, pardon? “Well since I’m getting you your food it’s polite to give something in return. I want half of your sandwich.” You want compensation for not having to go out of your way, at all? I can’t even argue with that. Because of course I should offer reimbursement for the very kind favour done for me, as a thank you. Never mind the fact that it makes no sense at all – if I refuse, then I am a rude A-hole. This isn’t a, “If you go to Subway for me, I’ll buy us both food.” The extra energy expended to say “Two subs” is so minor that it’s worth a thank you and some genuine appreciation and… Not much else. The idea of favour-for-favour intends to make two people feel even, and me buying her half of a sandwich and eating a third of what she does just because she said “One with Swiss cheese and one with old English,” puts me at a disadvantage. Maybe one day I will want to be like, “Y’know what? You can have half of my sandwich. I want to show appreciation for you.” But that is my call to make, not hers. Again, my property, my sandwich, only I’m entitled to it. Does that make sense? It’s 4:30am. I don’t have a sleep schedule but I do have a seminar today. Oh well. Obviously nothing that extreme (in terms of stupidity) has happened, but there have been more subtle situations where politeness has trumped basic logic and left me and others feeling exasperated and taken advantage of, with no real line of defence because the worst thing a person can be for some reason is ‘rude’.

Politeness, at its core, is a great thing that keeps society from ripping itself to shreds. However, it can be abused and manipulated very easily to take advantage of the emotionally or intellectually vulnerable. It can be drawn back to issues around consent; people being too afraid to say “No” when they are uncomfortable due to expectations and reputations and being labelled a “B***h” or an “A-hole.” Or, another big one, when a person says “Can I talk to you about this really upsetting and graphic and disturbing thing that’s bothering me?” and you know that you’re not in the right place for that, but you can’t say no and leave this person to suffer alone. I would be a hypocrite and a liar if I said that it doesn’t hurt my feelings to be told by someone that I’m making them uncomfortable or crossing a line, but y’know what’s more important than my feelings? A person’s right to be ‘rude’ for the sake of what they need from me. And you know what hurts even more than being told to back off? Being lied to and then finding out from other people how someone really feels.

So be honest, friends. If something that someone is doing is affecting you, tell them. If you’re stuck wondering how a social convention that makes no sense came to be, speak out. Maybe you think it’s ludicrous that your aunt yells at you to get your elbows off of the kitchen table while you’re eating, so stand on the table and shout “I reject your social norms!” Just kidding, do not do that, that is unsanitary and will probably just start an argument. Start a conversation instead.

Peace, my dudes. *This is the part where I’d throw a peace sign at you if we were together in person or if I wasn’t on a computer and had easily accessible emojis*

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