June 12, 2012 by themommahen
I detest rudenesss. It’s my biggest pet peeve, and one of the truest and oldest statements I know about myself. This doesn’t, unfortunately, mean that I’m not rude and certainly doesn’t mean that I’ve never been rude myself,but when I see it I instantly recognize it and hate it so viscerally that I want to make it right. Usually with my own brand of rudeness, involving a profanity-soaked tirade that would make my meat-packing, military-serving, Bronx-living ancestors blush. Or applaud, I’m not really sure which.
In middle school the biggest dose of rudeness was reserved for substitute teachers, a ritual I sometimes took part in. Because, really, it’s annoying when someone comes in and doesn’t know your name or what page you were on or that yes, the teacher always let’s us have free play outside. But then my Gramma, sweet, petite, soft-spoken, God-fearing, church-going Gramma, became a regular sub at my school. (And rode the bus with me, but that’s a subject for another post.) And people were rude.
In middle and high school there was plenty of rude to go around. We were rude to each other, rude to our parents, rude to our elders, rude to strangers…the trademark of self-absorption is rudeness. And there are few things more self-absorbed than pubescent tweens and teens, except maybe infants and preschoolers, but they don’t know any better.
So I was surprised when I went off to the big city to college and I found the world was *gasp* rude. Waiting in line at the Li’l Peach in Kenmore Square, there was no “hey how ya doing?” It was “Next! Whaddaya want?…Well?? Come on, there’re people waitin’ ya know.”
Or in my COM 101 class, where I, the self-proclaimed extrovert, became a wallflower, amazed at the brashness of my fellow students as they challenged and debated the professors (the professors!!) with an air of self-righteousness and arrogance I’d never seen before. And it was encouraged, in the name of education and academia. But there’s a fine line between discourse and disrespect. After all, rudeness under the guise of truth-seeking is still rudeness.
And in my dorm, where my friend K and I were hanging out one day when one of her good friends walked in. K, who happened to have brown skin and be from Long Island, introduced me to her friend, who also happened to have brown skin and be from Long Island, and upon hearing my thick drawl, K’s friend spat with utter disgust, “What? You in the KKK?”
Rude. And utterly horrifying. (We got past it, BTW. She’d just never met a white girl with big hair from the South and went with what she had heard. Stereotypes are interesting things.)
After a year of wanting to transfer and go back to my safe southern cocoon of yes ma’ams and no sirs, I emerged with a new coat of armor, a bit more hardened to the world, a little more mistrustful of good intentions, somewhat more jaded. But still not impervious to rudeness.
So when a friend relayed a story on Facebook the other day about a particularly rude encounter she had on a running and biking path of Chicago, I was reminded of another particular time in college that has never left me.
I was driving my trusty burgundy 1988 stick-shift Honda up a particularly steep hill in Brookline, on my way home from somewhere, driving into the setting sun, making it difficult to see. I came upon some casual bikers, probably in their 30s (so old!) and settled in behind them. I didn’t want to pass them on the hill, because I couldn’t see what might be coming over the hill and New England streets are notoriously narrow. Besides, I wasn’t in any hurry, windows down on a warm summer day, radio blaring, all right in my world.
The guy in the rear was waving me around. I stayed where I was. He waved harder. I waved back. He shook his head in disgust pedaled furiously to the top of the hill. His two friends followed.
I crested the hill, saw nothing was coming and pulled up next to them, ready for them to thank me for not putting them in danger by passing them in such a treacherous situation. Before I could speak, the guy who had been waving so fervently at me started yelling at me.
“What the fuck is your problem?! I told you to go around. Are you a fucking idiot?”
His words hit me like poison pellets. I was stunned.
My response, I’m sorry to say, was equally as foul.
“Fuck you mother fucker! I couldn’t fucking go around you because of the fucking sun and the fucking hill. I was fucking trying to be fucking safe you prick!”
I know. Not my best oratorical moment. Or creative.
He continued, yelling over me with his own expletive-laced tirade, while I yelled back at him almost hysterically:
“What if someone was yelling at your sister or mother like this? Huh? What if I was your sister or your mother??!”
Running out of real estate to drive, I pulled ahead and began to drive off. But not before the guy, obviously seeing my NC plates screamed:
“Nice mouth, ya redneck BITCH!”
I don’t know why, as someone who has quite the mouth (obviously), but being called the B-word really pisses.me.OFF. But, being too far ahead to unleash more profanities on the guy and being a little scared of the ferocity with which he had just dumped on me, I did what pisses me off even more.
I started to cry.
And when I had more time to reflect on it (like the past 18 years), I realized why. It wasn’t just that the guy said mean things. It wasn’t just that he had called me a name. It was the level of hatred and rudeness for no reason. Because he didn’t know me. Because he didn’t realize that I was doing something kind. Because he jumped to incorrect conclusions about my actions. Because he had ruined a near-perfect day with the blackness of rudeness. Because he could hide behind the anonymity of the situation.
And I was right about one thing that day. He wouldn’t abide by it if someone did that to his sister. Or his mother. Or anyone he cared about. None of us would.
If only we could remember that when we’re rude to someone else. Or when we hide behind anonymity in online comments that are really just rude. Or cower behind freedom of speech as justification to be rude. Or disguise our rudeness as civil discourse. Or flip off that person we don’t know because it makes us feel better. Or cuss out the stranger with intentions we don’t understand. Or inflict our poisonous words on people because we ourselves are drowning in our own poison.
I promise to try. But I can’t promise I won’t retaliate. Especially if you call me the B-word.