Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Dying Art of Being Nice

By now you've surely heard of the flight attendant who finally snapped. Details of the story vary, but apparently it went something like this: after being mistreated by a passenger, flight attendant Steven Slater cursed the passenger out over the intercom, took a beer from the galley, opened the cabin door, deployed the escape slide, slid to the ground, and went home, where he was later arrested on a variety of charges. He's now out on bail, and a hero.

So, did he do the right thing?

Lizzie Post, a spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, suggested that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needs to set a code of conduct for passengers to match the informal Passengers' Bill of Rights grudgingly and loosely agreed to by the airlines. She also noted that...

"there should have been a system in place that was clear to passengers that when they buy a ticket they must abide by certain rules. This binding code should be focused on safety, and safety alone. Behavior issues -- children kicking the seat in front of them, say, and other annoyances are not on the same magnitude: they are etiquette problems, to be dealt with, but not matters for the F.A.A."

Writing yesterday in the New York Times, commentator Benet Wilson agreed that airline passenger behavior has grown worse recently. She blamed it in part on a reaction to the many inconveniences and indignities that air passengers face, but said that...

"...the solution isn't to impose a code of passenger behavior. Creation and enforcement of more rules would only create a whole new set of problems for both passengers and flight attendants. Airlines should work with their flight attendants to come up with common sense guidelines that passengers can live with but will also be enforced."

AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!! She said common sense! Is she crazy?

Well, no. Not really.

The fundamental problem is one of a lack of good manners and the diminishing level of simple politeness in our interpersonal relations. Instead of treating each other with kindness and goodwill, many people insist on a level of perceived respect that they are unwilling to show to others. While it's true that the airlines have driven passengers to distraction with swarms of new fees and charges, smaller seats, unexplained delays, and other indignities large and small, passengers haven't reacted with much patience and goodwill, either.

I'm no saint, of course. I can be just as nasty as the next guy (well, unless the next guy is Kim Jong Il), but I like to think that it takes a fair amount of effort on the other person's part to get me to be that way. I've always believed, like my mother used to say, that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar...and she and my father constantly impressed on us the importance of politeness and good manners.

Today, sadly, politeness is often viewed as weakness to be exploited rather than a noble quality to be appreciated. Respect is demanded, but not given in return. We're reduced to suggesting - as Lizzie Post did - that government impose rules to force us to behave. At one time, parents did that.

Our favorite local restaurant has a prominently-displayed sign that reads, "Be nice or get out."

Which, after all, isn't such a bad policy.

Have a good day. Be nice. More thoughts tomorrow.



Raquel's World said...

Niceness in general is fading out. Really sad. I work in a service industry and you would be surprised the way people treat you. Niceness is so random that when someone is nice or does something nice you tend to wonder what the catch is. I think the airline guy was justified. And I think more people should command common courtesy from patrons. You do not have to kiss ass but treat people decent.

Mike said...

"Be nice or get out."

I like that.

Chrissy said...

Have you ever noticed that when you're really nice to people (some people) they take it as a sign of weakness - and try to stomp all over you? Why is that? When did we all become animals...and the polite/nice ones are the weak/wounded wimpy critters? In my experience - it was a similar story in corporate america. HOw did this start?

I often wonder what to teach my kids about this very topic. I don't want them to be rude or mean...but i also don't want them to be tromped all over throughout life.

John said...

I recently had a related conversation with a coworker. I think that part of the problems begins with the idea that we no longer know how to talk to each other. Today we text, tweet, e-mail or make impersonal gestures rather than actually conversing with one another.

It's not that we have bad manners--we have no manners. My recent post on RSVP is just a tip of the iceberg. We all demand that people respect OUR rights and yet we have no respect for the rights of others.

Being nice is not a sign of weakness; in todays world, it takes a great deal of strength to be nice.

I recall a scene in the movie Roadhouse. The language is strong and you can feel free to delete this or edit it--but be nice.

KathyA said...

While I agree that manners have deteriorated I think that this rudeness smacks of an air of 'entitlement' that many share -- this 'me, first' thing that reared its ugly head during the Reagan Administration and has snowballed into a rash of abhorrent behaviors. I'd like to add a few other signs to the articulate "Be nice or get out."
1. "If you don't have anything nice to say, then shut the hell up."

2. "Get off the phone, you couldn't be that important!"