1/12/2006

Uncommon Courtesy And Sweating The Small Stuff

No matter what anyone says, have you ever noticed that it's the small stuff that causes all your problems? Richard Carlson can tell you all he likes, Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, but most of the time you don't have any choice in the matter. It just piles up without you noticing until one day your dam bursts. That's the problem with the genuine small stuff; it's the inconsequential shit that happens on a daily basis to everybody. Being cut off in traffic, someone walking and talking on their cell phone and running into you, a door left to close in your face, cars blocking intersections so you can't walk across the street, drivers making right turns without checking for pedestrians on their right side; the list could go on forever. What makes all these things so annoying is that they all come about because somebody isn't thinking. Well, maybe they are thinking, but it's only about themselves. You can call it what you want; lack of awareness, preoccupation, or rudeness. The reality is, most people act like there's nobody else in the world but them. Have you ever been in a public place where they provide both seating and standing facilities? You and the people you're with are seated at a table. The next thing you know a whole crowd of people, with their backs to you, are standing pressed up against your chair. They have plenty of room to move away, but they don't. If you happen to say something to them, they look at you as if you were the rude one. Imagine what must be like for people in wheelchairs. I've actually seen people prop their butts against the back of a wheel chair because they haven't been paying any attention to what they've been doing. It would have been wonderful if the person in the chair had moved out quickly enough that the leaner fell on their butt. Courtesy is such an old fashioned word that it sounds quaintly archaic nowadays. Somehow the notion fell by the wayside in our rush to be free of the constraints of the past and the rebellion against the repressions of etiquette. What everybody seems to have missed out on was the difference between the two. Etiquette is a code of behaviour designed to differentiate one class from another. It defines how you're supposed to behave at the dining table, how to treat those who are higher and lower in rank than you, and thousands of other inconsequential nuances of behaviour. The only people etiquette matters to are those awaiting the resurrection of the British Empire. Courtesy has no rules or regulations. It's simply being aware of those around you and extending yourself enough to accommodate some of their needs. The only demand it places on a person is that they not think only of themselves. Is that asking a lot? It doesn't seem like it should be, but it must, given the manner so many people treat those around them. It's almost like it has become cool to be rude, judging by the behaviour of those who jeer at the people they cut off. It would be nice, sort of, to say it was limited to young people, in the hopes that they would grow out of it. But there seems to be no age limitations on rudeness. Young, middle aged, old, male, or female; it makes no difference. Rudeness is something that truly crosses all lines of race and sex. It's universal in application and practice. It's gotten to the point that when one does experience a rare act of courtesy you feel like giving the person responsible a medal. Each day we go out and experience constant barrage of indignities; an assault that eventually can leave you reeling. Sometimes it doesn't make any difference whether it's directed at you or you just observe it happening, the result is the same. You are left feeling frustrated and angry by the wear and tear on your nerves from feeling like you're involved in a constant game of chicken when you go for a walk. So when someone tells you not to worry about the small stuff in life, what exactly are they talking about? Do they never have to go out in public and deal with ordeal of just being in the world on a day-to-day basis? They say don't take things personally, but when the rudeness is directed at you, whether intentionally or not, it's almost impossible not to. With common courtesy grown exceedingly uncommon, it's becoming harder and harder not to feel the world piling up on your shoulders. Civility and decency seem to have fallen into disfavour, resulting in the small stuff becoming too large to handle.

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