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When Thoughtfulness Goes Bad...


I'll start by saying this:

The root of anger is when a person's expectations don't come to pass.
Nobody gets angry when things go as planned. If Mom expects the bed to be made in the morning, and the kids do it, Mom isn't angry - she's pleased. If they don't make the bed, she might get upset.

If you drive down the street with the intention of running your car into a telephone, you're probably not upset. After all, you expected it to happen. On the other hand, if a cat runs out into the street in front of you, and you swerve to miss it and crash into a telephone pole, you're likely mad - because that is so not what you had planned for the day.

Have I proven my premise? Let's assume that I have...

We expect others to be nice to us. In fact, we look for and reward thoughtfulness from others. That kind of consideration prevents things going south... if we act in a way that uses forethought and thinks of others, life generally goes better.

When we surprise people with self-centered actions, we hear things like this:

  • "Why aren't you walking with me?"
  • "Hey - give that back!"
  • "I've been waiting here for fifteen minutes... couldn't you have at least called to tell me that you would be late?"
The term we use for this kind of thoughtfulness is manners. Manners are like traffic laws for social interaction. Except that they're mostly unwritten (bonus points for you if you know who Emily Post is), almost universally unread, and never went through a democratic process before being enacted.

Somewhere along the line, consideration of others led to people believing that they have the right to not be offended. People believe that you have an obligation to not introduce your own interests as the sand in their ointment. Polite folk just don't do that sort of thing, you see.

One of the great problems in the US today is that people have dropped their natural and healthy self-interest. I believe that comes directly out of the drive for political correctness, which started with manners. You don't want to give more of your income to others? Why, someone might tell you, you're just rude and mean, selfish and uncivilized. Is it so wrong to actually think of others, they might ask?

What crap.

Nobody has the right to tell me how to live my life. Expecting your definition of thoughtfulness from me without my consent is a usurpation of my liberty. Coercing your definition of thoughtfulness onto me without my consent is immoral. That in itself is rudeness.

There is a balance to be found between our own healthy self-interest and our consideration of others. Whatever balance can be found, it starts with recognizing the freedom of the other person to choose for themselves their own conduct and culture. If we don't, we seek to control them though expectation and resultant anger at violating our expectations.

So I'd like to suggest that the basis of all manners and civil discourse is the acceptance of individual liberty - a concept that would likely horrify any manners consultant out there - but nonetheless, I believe it is foundational . I say this because the justification for manners is peaceful coexistence, and until I allow people their natural right to determine their own life, there will be no peace in our coexistence.


by Brett Rogers, 11/28/2009 1:41:42 PM


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