It’s more than a month since I posted a blog. There are reasons, or excuses – high work load, health problems requiring hospital visits and medication, a holiday – but a significant element of idleness has contributed. Idleness is something to which we can all fall prey and must confront, so I’m now confronting it. Of course, the way to confront idleness is to make yourself work.
In that regard, if in no other, idleness is analogous to discourtesy: we can all fall prey to it and we need to confront it. But you can’t effectively confront discourtesy by forcing yourself to work. A different weapon is required.
Nationally and internationally, there’s a rising tide of discourtesy. Social media users are obliged to have opinions about everything, ignorance of relevant information notwithstanding, and to express those opinions in a “forthright” way, i.e. rudely. That’s how people make themselves appear assured and confident. Or so they suppose. Most of the time it makes them appear crass and boorish. Extreme examples are the so-called ‘trolls’, whose disgraceful and sometimes menacing behaviour has caused real distress to their victims, sometimes leading to mental health problems and even suicide. Extremes aside, the danger of addiction to social media is too well known to need emphasis.
So-called “reality television” seems to be a chronic celebration of meanness – meanness masquerading as honesty, so the perpetrators are applauded for it. “Reality television” is a blight on our culture, a blight that flourishes in the social media age. Once again it creates a climate in which personal unpleasantness is encouraged, fostered and approved.
In 2016, a man noted for having elevated discourtesy and boorishness to an art form was elected President of the United States. This event seems to reflect one of the ugliest features of modern times: we now inhabit a rude, discourteous world.
This isn’t a trivial matter. Just as idleness erodes the character, depleting one’s stock of vitality, social value and self-respect, so discourtesy erodes social relationships. Although I haven’t examined the relevant studies, I understand there’s evidence that discourtesy makes us less creative, more aggressive and less productive and efficient; and this seems plausible. If someone is rude to you there’s a compelling urge to respond in kind. If you give way to that urge you’re starting on a downward spiral of increasing aggression and declining creativity. More obviously, your social relationships become increasingly soured, leading to unhappiness and the deterioration of friendships; and that trend, taken to extremes, can cause wars. Therefore, just as we need to confront idleness, we need to confront discourtesy.
The obvious sixty-four dollar question is: how?
In my opinion (and let me stress that although I state this opinion “forthrightly” I’m open to challenge and criticism!) the answer is simple: we should confront discourtesy with courtesy. If someone’s rude to you, be polite in return. If someone launches an ad hominem attack on you, respond in a calm, reasoned tone. Instead of engaging in a battle of vituperation, take refuge in rational discussion. Reply to disrespect with respect, and to intemperance with temperance.
In my experience, this policy disarms most antagonists. It allows one to take refuge in a moral oasis in the present-day desert of verbal violence.
I wonder whether we could persuade our leading politicians, including the President of the USA, to adopt this policy. I’m sure it would be a better world if we could.