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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Etiquette shaming - a sign of the times?

My friend, K, recounted how she once absent-mindedly entered an elevator without looking, only to be told off by the man exiting. Not only did he admonish her for not letting people out of the elevator first before entering, but he did so in an expletive-laden rant. She was so stunned that she didn’t even have time to apologize or explain. I’m on the side of K on this one. She really didn’t mean to be rude but wasn’t even given the opportunity to apologize. And to people out there who say that the man had every right to tell her off, what happened to “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”?

I can imagine that with Pokemon Go being all the rage now, more and more people will be bumping into things and other people, on the hunt for those little Pokemon critters. And I imagine they will be told off by others in no uncertain terms. I already glared at some teens blocking the supermarket, oblivious to shoppers around them.

Very often, I’ve seen Facebook postings of cars that have been parked illegally in spots reserved for the handicapped, with pictures of the actual car uploaded, or videos of the car owners being told off. I’ve been in restaurants where a table of diners celebrating a birthday were given dirty looks for creating a ruckus. I’ve also seen parents of small children being admonished for their offspring misbehaving.

I’m guilty of etiquette shaming myself. I just discovered that there is such a term for this response to what many consider bad manners. I try to be a model citizen, letting other cars into my lane, holding the door for others, giving up my seat on the train or bus to someone else who might need it more. But ever so often, the stranger just gives me the brush-off without acknowledging my kind deed. In my effort to stick to my New Year’s resolution to be kinder this year (oh that seems like ages ago), I’ve tried to do the right thing, but it still irks me when my act elicits no response. I haven’t gone as far as to reprimand those people verbally but I have given them a glare or side-eye.

This trend of people shaming or scolding each other over a minor oversight seems to have exploded with the advent of social media, or perhaps it’s just that social media easily and immediately highlights what has been going on anyway.

Why do we feel the compulsion to scold or shame a stranger for a supposed infraction? Why does it irk so us? Do we feel that it’s our job to teach people manners? Do we assume that the person we’re scolding does this routinely without regard for others?

I have to remind myself that there are people all around me leading complicated lives, often fraught with worry and stress. They may be shouldering burdens far more heavy than I can imagine. In tough economic times, people are on edge, have short fuses and are ready to let off steam. Perhaps the man who just swept past the door I held open was worried that he was late, or maybe he had a lot on his mind. The table next to us at the restaurant didn’t realize they were being so loud. They were just having a good time.

I was brought up on the etiquette rule of keeping mum if I had nothing nice to say. It’s a timely reminder to myself that I can be nice or kind to others without expecting any thanks or acknowledgement. I don’t need to upbraid strangers or teach them a lesson. Life is tough enough as it is. I just need to smile and take Taylor Swift’s advice to “shake it off!”


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