February 2006

The puzzling phenomenon of rudeness

By Suzanne Strazza

“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength” — Eric Hoffer

What causes a person to be rude to another? What would make someone want to say something mean? Is it, as Mr. Hoffer says, related to weakness or the catchall “low self-esteem”? Or is it way more shallow than that; is one person nasty to another simply because it’s fun?

I think there are some folks who are essentially good-hearted but for one reason or another have the tendency to say exactly what they think – without thinking. These individuals seem to do this to anyone available so it’s not fair to take their comments personally.

Then there are those who are much more selective about who gets the full brunt of their snide-ness. These are the ones who can be pleasant when they want to, so you know their rudeness is a choice and you are a chosen one.

My focus is on the second group, because, honestly, we’ve probably all spent time in the first.

Now, I have just as much ability to be catty as the next person, but I do attempt to not always say what I’m thinking aloud. “God, that haircut is horrible”, “By the way, I hate your kids”, “Do you know that your husband is a putz?” Really, what good would it do to say this to a person in the middle of City Market? Is it going to make anyone happier? Doubtful.

I will admit that I may think someone’s husband is a loser while he’s standing right in front of me, but I wouldn’t say anything until I’m in the car, alone, having my own imaginary conversation.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares this philosophy.

There are a few folks around here who could seriously benefit from some quality time with Emily Post. For example, in the past few years, I have been told that I am a sell-out for the way that I dress my son, I am a mother without boundaries for letting Bowen sport a Mohawk, my hair is bad, my shoes are ridiculous and my husband is a dirt bag (all things I already know, thank you very much). Also, I need to read different (translation: better) books on parenting, lower the price on my house, and rethink who I was dating over 10 years ago. Often these observations preempt “hello.”

Why is it that certain people think that their purpose on this earth is to point out all my faults whenever they see me? Granted, there are certain things about me that scream “Ridicule me!” (my hair, my clothes, my butt, my kids, my husband and my housekeeping skills); and if I really minded I would remain a bit more understated, but still…

It doesn’t bother me. I could care less if you like my bald head. What does irk me is the attempt to get under my skin.

I don’t know that I am stronger than the next person. I often think I am a total wimp and that I let people walk all over me. It’s not that I’m kind out of super self-confidence. Seems to me like it takes a lot more gumption to be disrespectful. It’s easier to just be nice. Mostly, I can’t imagine intentionally ruining someone else’s day. Life is hard enough as is.

Recently, my girlfriends and I were overanalyzing this subject and we all agreed that true friends are obligated to let you know when you are being a dork. But close friends are different than the casual acquaintance; they have earned the right to judge and criticize.

Plus, a good friend will also not hesitate to say something nice. For example, “Hi, Suz, you are such a good writer. Really. But what the hell were you thinking dyeing your hair platinum?”

Friends also expect you to be brutally honest with them so that you get your opportunity to dish it out. Plus, a friend will likely say “hello” before starting in on you.

Am I doing this all wrong? Would I have more fun in life if I said what I think to everyone around me? “Your kids are weird.” “Nice nose zit.” “P.S. Your hips are too big for that dress.”

My guess is that the fun would wear off quickly. I am not the nicest person I know, but I try not to be the meanest either. Perhaps I should quit trying and join the ranks of the ridiculously rude, speaking my mind to everyone I see.

Others seem to enjoy it, so maybe I will too.

Beware — next time you see me, you’d better be perfect. Or else.

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos.