What ever happened to a shared sense of manners? Possibly such a question is just the first indication that I am growing really old, as in, ‘What’s wrong with these young people” kind of old. “I remember when….” All possibly true, but I do remember when snark, outrage, and the rest were a poor reflection on your upbringing. Maybe the internet needs a Artificial Intelligence Mom to scold and dispense “time outs” to miscreant behaviors.I have been thinking about manners and the cultural norms of what is considered polite and orderly. The topic has come to the fore of thought as I recall my time in Kenya. I found the norms of Kenya very familiar to the ones I knew growing up. I knew many missionaries in Kenya that were surprised that they were thought to be rude – something that was foreign to everything they perceived about themself. But then cross-cultural living often had that effect.
Someone has just been rude to you. We all react differently to rudeness – at least we think we do. How do we respond? Sometimes it is a cultural norm that one needs to adjust to. People in New York City and Boston are good and nice people. But I grew up in the South and initially I interpreted the behavioral norms I encountered in Boston as rude. I soon learned it was just a new set of norms, new waters in which I needed to learn to swim.
Sometimes we encounter a person for whom “rude” is a state of being. They just come across as rude, don’t seem to be aware/care or are unwilling to adapt to the environment around them. In my experience, we tell ourselves, “they’re just that way – God bless their hearts.”
But we are mostly surprised by rudeness. We surprise others by our rudeness. When we encounter a surprising or unexpected event, our thoughts become immersed in the event in an attempt to interpret it, make sense of it, and understand our own feelings related to the incident. There is a large body of study that shows this immersion, when initiated by a negative event such as rudeness, has a gravity all its own: it tends to drag us down the rabbit hole, into its own gravity well. Even minor events such as rudeness can cause strong negative emotional reactions as our thoughts and attention narrow to focus on the negative aspects of the event. Studies have also shown that witnessing rudeness can have the same effect upon us, even when the rudeness is aimed at others.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology looked at how rudeness affects our behavior. Turns out, rude experiences can trigger the anchoring bias – our tendency to focus on one piece of information when making a decision, even if the information is irrelevant. For example, studies have shown that after experiencing rudeness from patients (or what they perceive as rude), doctors and medical residents were more likely to anchor to an incorrect diagnosis. Other studies have shown that in negotiation settings, negotiators often become fixated on specific (and sometimes irrelevant) pieces of information that negatively impact their negotiated outcomes. In the courtroom, judges react to their experience of rudeness and award radically different sentences for almost identical crimes based on the punishments suggested by the prosecutor. Likewise, investors’ judgments of stock prices have been shown to be heavily impacted by the anchoring bias.
In other words, rather than consider a wide range of possibilities, our attention becomes focused on the anchor. We begin to selectively recall and associate information to reinforce our judgment (anchor). As our attention narrows and focuses on the anchor, there is an increasingly disproportionate effect on judgment.
In my role as priest and pastoral person, I occasionally encounter some pretty stark behavior that falls well outside my boundaries of mannerly behavior and comportment. Still, my role as priest and pastor doesn’t change because of their manners (or lack thereof). It is the same dilemma that airport personnel face in dealing with customers whose flight has been cancelled. It the same phenomena faced by folks working in customer service online and in stores. There is such a gravity to anchor judgment on the one glimpse of the person in what is probably a stressful moment for them.
I think we would all be well served in such moment to think “God bless their hearts” and say, “How can I help you?” Make your moms proud.