Archive | August, 2012

why so rude?

1 Aug

I was trying to keep my footing on BART (our heavy-rail transit system here in the Bay Area) when these two came into the train. This happened during the morning rush, and this couple was committing the cardinal sin of BART-riding: Thou Shalt Not Bring Thy Bike Into BART During Rush Hour. Everyone around looked at them with the sort of look you give a weird ethnic dish with a funny name, thinking Will this turn out OK? And to be honest, the sinning couple didn’t look like assholes. They were older, and had the face of people who immediately regret their decision.

My stop was coming up, so I readied myself to leapfrog over their bikes, a la Carl Lewis in honor of the Olympic Spirit. None of that was needed, and my feathers went unruffled. As I exited, however, I heard some mumbles, then some louder mumbles, and then all hell broke loose inside that train.

“We are trying to exit, Jesus!”


Then the cherry on top: a sensible-looking woman began to yell at the oldie cyclists,

“Why the hell are you blocking our way. Getouttathaway!”

This was not only uncalled for (the couple was already trying to repent for their sin by awkwardly accommodating everyone who was trying to exit), but it was damn rude. The woman yelling at them no more than a couple feet away, and she wasn’t even getting off at that stop. She just stood there, quietly boiling, yelling for something that didn’t affect her day.

“Getouttathaway!” was still looping in my brain when I asked myself, why are people rude? It’s the sort of question we stop asking ourselves as we grow older. Because that’s life, that’s whywe probably told ourselves when we were kids and had to deal with bullies and pushy adults. We have all been inconsiderate at one time or another, and we certainly know people who known as rude, with Dickishness at the top of their ingredient label.  But what compells or allows for such brusque behavior? Why did those BART riders, and that stand-still woman, become a brutish mob when a direct, but tactful word, would’ve done just fine?

I did some digging and found two reasons. One is captured in an interesting study done a few years ago by The New Scientist on online behavior, in particular disrespectful online behavior. If you’ve ever read comments on YouTube you know exactly what this is about. A good amount of the vitriol in the world manages to gravitate towards theses kind sites. A likely reason? Anonymity. If people feel that they wont be found out then they are more likely to act like Simon Cowell with Tourette’s. When anonymity is secured nobody knows who said what, we only see “superpillowpants_23” calling someone a retard or a bitch. Same goes for places like a full BART train where no one knows where a voice is coming from. Anonymity is like a dark alley: perps can hide and blend in with the darkness.

Another study found that acts of rudeness might keep happening, because, well, we praise them so much! People who act like assholes are often considered “in control” or “decisive,” when compared to their politer peers. If you don’t give a hoot about how to treat others then you’re a vanguard, a maverick!, and this translates to a perception of power over others and over agreed-on rules. People may not consciously make the connection between power and inconsiderate acts, but something tells me that at some level this is happening. People might make others feels less-than in order to compensate for their own inferiority somewhere else in life. It’s the bully complex: abused at home, abuser at school.

It’s depressing to hear that people are likelier to be a prick if they know they won’t be found out or if they will get something in return. It puts a sour note on the idea of human nature. But it kind of makes sense. This whole living-near-other-people thing is fairly new. Our urban migration and density is a few centuries old. The idea of a city is only a few millenia old. Before these drastic changes, we didn’t have to bump into so many people and attitudes and sweaty smells during our daily commute.  We only had to worry about our family and the family an acre or so yonder. (Even niceties like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are very new things, having begun in the 16th century, and only to promote egalitarianism, not because we really meant them). Now we are constantly getting in each other’s way. Rudeness might just be a growing pain; it’s the price we pay for having a neighbor. A neighbor we can then go and tell to go fuck himself.

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