How To Deal With Uncivilized People

Every society contains certain rules that govern the behavior of its members. These rules over a period of time become customs. There are customs for greetings, dress, eating, social gatherings, formal rituals such as religious services and holidays. Behaving within the tenets of a custom is considered, "polite." Breaking customary boundaries is generally, "rude." Though eating with one's fingers is acceptable in some societies, it is lacking in etiquette elsewhere. Similarly, belching aloud following a good meal can either be a compliment...or an indication of poor breeding. Generally, in our society, people who break the rules of what we consider civilized behavior are called, "boors."

For the most part, our customs are diverse and learned over a lifetime of experience. In a similar vein, so are the violations or rude behavior. Children learn what they live. If parents display and permit offensive behavior-- such as telling another to "shut up!"-- their children will consider that behavior appropriate. Similarly, an individual may talk with a mouthful of food, occasionally splaying it on others; or talk loudly during a movie, interrupt others who are speaking, hang-up a phone suddenly on the strength of a mere disagreement, arrive late-- or sometimes not at all-- for planned appointments, shout obscenities, sound a car horn at relatively slower drivers, smoke in no-smoking areas or in your face, park in "handicapped parking" spaces...or simply belch during a meal, here in America.

It is useful to consider three general types of rude behavior:
1) Accidental clumsiness. There are occasions in which some people, who did not intend to be rude, acted offensively and were surprised to learn of their transgression. The same behavior, after all, is often considered appropriate at home. Have you ever visited a home in which it is customary for family members to talk over one another, each about himself ad nauseum? A typical conversation with such an individual might consist of your listening to his (her) autobiography. Frankly, you might prefer waiting for the "movie" to be released. That being the case, politely excuse yourself and change the subject. Some people accidentally offend with "overkill." For example, upon being invited for dinner, bringing an expensive, estate-bottled, French wine to someone who generally drinks an inexpensive, local brand (you know, "ten minutes ago" was a very good year!). Then asking that person if he (she) can tell the difference. Good taste might better be displayed through a non-tutorial gesture, such as a center- piece for the table, and gracious appreciation for what is being offered.

2) Blind clumsiness. These individuals-- as in the previous category-- offend unwittingly. However, in contrast with the surprised reaction of the former, the present group are indifferent, cavalier, regarding how they impact those they offend. Hence, this category of boors may be considered more offensive. For example, when someone enters your home smoking without asking permission, then simply asks, "where is an ash- tray?"; Or arrives for dinner very late without offering an apology, or suddenly cancels a social event or engagement that involved considerable effort or cost on your part, without sufficient explanation. You are unlikely going to change such an individual, whose boorish behavior patterns are woven deeply into the fabric of his reinforcement history. However, it is often useful to assert yourself, stating your displeasure with having been offended. Then think twice about associating with this per- son in the future.

3) Clumsiness with a mission. The most severe form of rude, boorish behavior, individuals in this category deliberately engage in nuisance behaviors for the purpose of annoyance or embarrassment. For example, an emotionally troubled person may displace toward you, offensive behavior originally intend- ed for another. Perhaps the person, feeling powerless in the presence of the true offender, may experience some relief of tension by venting the wrath your way. Often, simply ignoring such a boor makes you a less than desirable target. Should this fail to produce the desired result, it is imperative to be diplomatic but unyielding while informing the individual of the negative consequences which may ensue. Effectively handling rude behavior is a function of the strategies used to bring such behavior to the attention of the offending person. In effect, civilization has appropriate ways of expressing it's discontent.