BETWEEN GENERATIONS – Marilyn Armstrong

Civility, manners, and communications has, for obvious reasons, become a hot topic. We have a president who insults people in front of the entire world and a lot of people apparently believe it’s okay. Of course, some of these people also believe the same idiot blowhard is the next messiah, so I figure I can discount their opinion.

We talk about manners vanishing and sometimes that feels true. How many people are clueless about what’s appropriate? Do they know when it’s fine to be casual — and when it’s not?

This is pretty much a no-brainer for my generation. It’s not that we’re so smart, but we were raised differently. We grew up when there were clear rules about social behavior. There were fairly rigid standards for professional communications. Nobody had to tell us how to talk to superior officers and bosses. We learned this stuff watching others. We learned it at home, in our friends’ homes. We even learned it on television.

Cover of "The Graduate"

We called our teachers “Mr. or Mrs. Whatsyourname.” That’s also how we addressed our friends’ moms and how our friends addressed our parents. That’s how we addressed everyone older than us.

It’s one of the funny parts of watching “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman. He may be sleeping with Mrs. Robinson, but he never calls her by her first name. That would be impolite.

The next generation had its own set of rules. They didn’t believe they needed to respect their elders simply because they were elders. Or bosses or teachers. They heard a different message: everyone is equal.

Happy New Year and let’s hear it for more of the same!

The thing is, we are unbelievably far from all being equal. It’s not only about race or ethnicity, color or sex, although these issues factor in. Dig a little deeper and it’s about money and power. Which is what it has been about since history began. That’s how society really works.

In my generation, we all knew this before we left high school. You don’t treat your boss like your buddy. It has nothing to do with whether or not your boss deserves your respect. It’s nice if he or she does, but In the course of a building a career the odds favor your working for any number of people who are unworthy of your respect.

As long as they sign your paycheck, you treat them with respect, tact, and care. Not only does your salary depend on it, so does your reputation and any future career moves you plan. Your boss may be the biggest asshole you’ve ever met, but you don’t say so.

Filling in the forms

If you’re smart, you don’t say it behind his or her back either because another rule of the real world is what you say will get back to whoever you said it about. Those chickens always come back to roost, every damned time.

You will need all the goodwill and recommendations you can get as you fight your way through the working world. Don’t squander it. Don’t blow your world up by gossiping, backbiting, and behaving like a brat.

To people my age, all this stuff was obvious, that all men may have been created equal, but after being born, some are much more equal than others. No one had to tell us not to start a memo to the boss with “Yo, Bossman!”

Looking for work?

We knew that. We knew who had the power and who didn’t. We knew when to fight and when to duck and cover. We knew we needed to earn our way and had to behave professionally.

But kids who aren’t kids anymore don’t seem to get it. Unsurprisingly, neither do their kids. I don’t understand what they don’t understand.

Do you? Maybe they’ve been watching too much news and have a bad case of Trumpitis.

GRATITUDE HAS A SHORT MEMORY – Marilyn Armstrong

gratitudev2

Throughout my life, since I was old enough to be responsible for my own actions, I have given when I could to people who needed it. I have received — if not in kind, certainly when in real need. Always the gifts came from others, but almost never from the people to whom I had given.

Karma apparently doesn’t work like that.

I assume this is not talking about holding a door or helping someone put groceries in their trunk or letting someone in a hurry go ahead of you on the cashier’s line.

I don’t consider that kind of civility anything but common courtesy which everyone should extend to everyone else without regard for payback or even thanks. I couldn’t remember 99% of them. They are to me — and I assume to most people — almost knee-jerk reactions to moving through life. Being polite is programmed into our social DNA. Or should be. I call them “good manners.”

I’ve loaned money to people who were desperate, bought things I absolutely didn’t need because someone wouldn’t take a gift, but if I bought something, she’d take the money. I’ve let friends and almost-friends live with me when they had nowhere to go, sometimes for years at a time.

And I have been taken in when I had nowhere to go. I’ve fed the hungry and been fed when I was hungry. I’ve delivered groceries to people in need, given clothing, computers, musical instruments, books, bags, furniture,, and the occasional automobile because I had more than I needed and they didn’t have any.

Was it done in secret? No. I usually respond to needs spontaneously when someone makes it known. I hear they need a coat, would love to own that book, need a car. Don’t know how they’re going to feed the family this week. I give what I have to fill a need.

Does it make the gift less worthy? I don’t think so. Do I require a lifetime of gratitude in exchange? You’re kidding, right?

It reminds me of the story told about William Randolph Hearst, who remarked upon seeing an old adversary on the street, “I don’t know why he hates me, I never did him a favor.” And there are many similar quotes.

“Hope has a good memory, gratitude a bad one.” — Baltasar Gracian.

“Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive.” — Edward Gibbon

Dr. Malherbe of Natal University said to Field Marshal Smuts as he left a political meeting, “Why were those two hecklers at the back so bitterly hostile?”

Smuts replied, “I understand the feelings of one of them very well indeed. He and I were brought up together in the same small town in the Western Cape. I got him his first appointment—and his second. In fact, he owes all his worldly success to me. But I don’t know why the other was so hostile. I never did him a favor in my life.”

“You did him a favor. He’ll never forgive you for that.” — The Boxer 1997

If you do a good deed, do not expect it to come back to you as gratitude or in kind. Such expectations will doom you to disappointment.

Acts of kindness and generosity do not make friendships. More often than not, they stir up resentment. People hate owing debts of gratitude. The most popular people are always those who don’t do anything for anybody. Those are the folks who are admired and adored, followed and emulated. Don’t ask me why. Human nature is a peculiar thing. The longer I live, the less sense it makes.

If you figure it out, be sure to let me know. It’s one of the deepest secrets of life. Very deep. Very secret.

MISS MANNERS HERE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Good Morning, Miss Manners

I am 72 years old and I still don’t know which side of the plate one puts forks versus spoons and knives. My son knows because his father taught him, but in my house, my mother — who hated cooking and refused to spend money on paper napkins (she used tissues which stuck to your fingers – yuk!) — basically threw eating implements on the table. We had no manners at all and whatever I’ve learned since childhood is at least good enough to get me through most dinners without everyone staring at me and giggling.

Manners tend to be species oriented. My dogs are very neat and always eat all the stuff they drop on the floor. Birds and squirrels too. None of them worry about where to put the forks and spoons.

On the other hand, I’m pretty persnickety about verbal manners, as in being polite, civil, and not shouting except with enthusiasm. Funny how different we can be about the same thing in different places, isn’t it?

It’s just that being a klutz at dinner will embarrass you, but being an uncivilized nasty asshole — you know, like our President — hurts a lot of other people. I’m not in favor of hurting people’s feelings unless they’ve really gotten under my skin. And it’s not easy to get that far under my skin. In the physical presence of others, I try really hard to be kind and polite. I even try to do it when writing, though I think I’m better in person. Wit can be hurtful and when I write, I too often go for “wit” when maybe I shouldn’t.

The trees are wearing their best manners today too. Our maple tree has a bunch of red leaves on it this afternoon which weren’t there yesterday. If not for the incoming storm, I think another week and the trees would be stunning and definitely better than civil. Downright glorious!

Tell me I’m not the only one who can’t set a table properly, please. I always feel like a total dunce when I’m trying to make the table look “fancy.”

YOU COULD CALL THIS UPBEAT. NO, REALLY, YOU COULD. – Marilyn Armstrong

I really hate insurance companies. I would have hated them earlier in life, but I didn’t have as much to do with them as I’ve had recently. I should mention that I actually am very fond of Blue Cross. They are about as friendly, cooperative, flexible, and civil as anyone I’ve ever dealt with. I get on the phone mad but by the time I get off, I’m in a better mood. Imagine that! They actually make me feel better!

Dinner or breakfast, it’s delicious

They are an exception, however. When Elizabeth Warren said she didn’t know anyone who liked their insurance company I thought of Blue Cross. THEN I thought about MAPFRE and my lip curled. Grrrr.

So Friday afternoon, I get the mail and one of the items in it is a cancellation notice from my car insurance. Considering that I’ve been paying them relentlessly since this month’s bill came due, I’m baffled. I don’t think anyone at this company knows how to update the computer. Each month, I get a different bill. Not a few pennies. Hundreds of dollars. Sometimes steam blows out my ears and I find myself as sharp-tongued and irritable as I ever get.

They never say they are sorry. These folks were, as John Wayne used to say, “brought up wrong.” They don’t get the whole “word’ thing. They think saying “Hey, sorry for the mix-up. Hope we have it worked out now.” How hard is that? Civility is the oil that keeps life flowing smoothly. Like greasing the wheel.

I’m a chronic over-apologizer. If I accidentally bang into a chair, I will probably apologize to it.  It can’t hurt even if it doesn’t help much.  You learn this stuff as a kid. When it doubt, say you’re sorry. It costs nothing and it makes people feel better. One “I’m sorry” can stop a lawsuit before it happens. A doctor once pointed that out to me. If you just say, “I’m really sorry that happened,” it’s what most people are really looking for. A simple apology. An acknowledgment they were right — or at least not wrong.

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But corporations, insurance companies? They don’t apologize unless you are in the process of buying a lot of product, in which case good manners flow like oil — until the deal is made. Then, back to normal.

That’s how come Medicare for all will work. Medicare is really easy to work with. They answer the phone. IN-PERSON no less. And they know their business. The phone gets answered 24 hours a day.

They do their best to help you, find a way around your problem. They aren’t there to make life harder and are pleased when they can do you a good turn. Just the nice manners and kind attentions will make everyone glad to jump on-board.

Change isn’t always hard. Sometimes, it goes easily, smoothly and before long, no one remembers it ever being different. It feels natural.

That’s the way Medicare will feel. It’s almost like you can finally take a deep breath after holding it in for a long time. I’m still not sure why everyone is in such an uproar about it. It will go fine. Smooth as butter on toast.

PROUD TO BE CIVIL – Marilyn Armstrong

Politically correct. What outrage that term produces! How dare anyone tell me how to behave, how to speak? I can say anything I want. I mean … look at our president!

Yeah. Look at our president. Take a good look.

To be politically correct means to tread carefully on other people’s feelings and sensibilities. I’m for that.

Around here, “P.C,” means you can’t go around spewing racist epithets thinly disguised as humor or these days, as pure hatred. PC is designed for all the morons, bigots, racists and the socially challenged. It is a simple rule: “DON’T SAY THAT,” works much better than sensitivity training.

So many amongst us have no sensitivity to train.

Even if the morons who insist they don’t mean it — in which case why are they saying it? — I feel any rule or law that protects me from having to listen to hate is political capital well spent.


I would not call it political correctness.
I would call it civility.
Good manners.
Common decency.

If anyone feels that not calling other people insulting names is cramping their style, these are the exact people for whom these rules were intended. These are precisely the folks who most need them. Normal people have enough intelligence and good manners to know when to shut up without being told. They don’t need those rules. They already “get it.”

For everyone else, we have rules. Call it whatever you want. PC, good manners, civility, sensitivity, or politeness. It’s the same thing.

When we are amongst friends and we know each other well, we relax, let out guards down. Especially when we are a minority among others like us with similar culture and history, it’s all good. We are family, we act silly like family. But if you are not one of us, leave your mouth outside. I don’t need to be insulted. I don’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Many people still think racism is sort of cute. I think they should be eliminated from the gene pool.

CRITICISM – Marilyn Armstrong

Mostly brutal


Brutal honesty is always more brutal than honest and is never well-meant.

Honesty without kindness is meanness under false colors.

When criticism is given without love or humor, its aim is not to inform, but to hurt.


Anyone can tell — by the tone of voice and facial expression — the true intent of someone who is “only telling the truth for your own good.” Most of the time, it’s a bald-faced lie. I wish people who have a bone to pick would just say so and stop pretending it’s for my own good. It’s for their good if anyone’s good is truly involved.

brutal honesty

Some people really can’t handle criticism, no matter how gently given — or even a suggestion there might be a better way to do something. In which case, give it up. Whatever you feel you need to tell them? Don’t bother They’ll always take it the wrong way and no one will benefit. Sometimes, they have good reasons for reacting that way, but it doesn’t matter. From your point of view, it’s a lost cause. Give it up.

On the whole, people who like to criticize other people get a kick out of it. I would like to kick them back.

So, to sum this up, are you suggesting I don’t take criticism well? Who do you think you are, anyway? I take criticism fine. You are out of line, sir. I am the soul of restraint and patience and if you don’t agree, I’m going to shout at you until you apologize.

There. Now I feel better.

BE NICE – Marilyn Armstrong

I often feel like I should print a million t-shirts and bumper stickers that say: “BE NICE.” If I had the money, I’d do it and I’d stand on a busy street corner and hand them out.

Be nice and a better world will follow.

I don’t expect everyone to agree. I don’t even think having everyone agree is inherently a good thing. We need opposition. Controversy should be a positive development in politics and other areas of thought.

Phoenix sunset – Photo: Garry Armstrong

On the other hand, I believe civility would heal a lot of wounds. You don’t call people ugly names no matter what you believe because doing so is cruel, hurtful, and mean-spirited.

You don’t need a better reason. You don’t need “PC Police.” Keep a civil tongue in your head is a good enough reason.

I grew up in a household where we never, ever called anybody by any name that referred to their race or religion. This wasn’t only if someone of that race or religion was present. This was a general rule and applied 100% of the time, whether we were alone or in company. Nobody called names.

It was clearly and completely understood by everyone this was an absolute and rigid rule. No exceptions. Unless it was a literal quote and you were making a point about the speech, it was forbidden. Into my adulthood, I never heard anyone in my house — not kids or adults — racially or religiously insult anyone. Come to think of it, I didn’t hear it from any of my friends, either.

Sunset in the desert – Photo: Garry Armstrong

What anyone might have thought privately? I don’t know and I don’t care.

In our house, those words were never used. Garry says he was brought up the same way. Maybe if more parents refused to spout hateful words and made sure their kids didn’t use them either, the world would be a more civilized place for all of us.

COMMUNITY ATOP AND BELOW – Marilyn Armstrong

We went to our doctor yesterday. The nurse there is a lovely, sweet lady who is not only a kindly woman, but can always find your files, gets you in on time, and remembers that you are the one on whom they can’t use an electronic blood pressure reader.

She lives quite near us in Uxbridge. We vaguely without specifics — we’ve grown careful about saying anything anyone could actually argue about — that life sure had gotten difficult.

Mumford River

Then she said it was a pity we could not stop shouting at each other and “let Congress do its job.” Apparently, she watches Fox News and is of the opinion that Congress is trying to do its job.

It’s kind of hard to fix the incivility of the nation when the most uncivil one is our so-called president who is by far the meanest, worst-mannered, self-centered blowhard I’ve ever seen on TV. He’s worse than the characters on sitcoms.

But my community, little old Uxbridge, has always been like that. You might say that this small town has led the way in incivility. Was Trump ever in Uxbridge?

We have to have the Police Chief at town meetings to pull people apart and keep them from choking each other. If you think that’s an exaggeration, it isn’t. I worked briefly for our local Blackstone Valley newspaper and I got to cover this one election year. I saw it in action.

It’s vicious. Everybody shouts and pounds the table. They yell insults and threats. Sometimes they have a good reason for their feelings, but it doesn’t help the community deal with issues which need fixing.

The police station in Uxbridge

Nothing gets done when it should or how it should — and most of the community’s “business” gets “passed” in secret by the same folks that bankrupted the town years ago.

Now we’ve got “newcomers” who want fancy schools and upgraded everything. Uxbridge doesn’t have the money to do it. We just managed to put up a high school because if we didn’t, we’d have been downgraded and our graduates would not have been able to go to college.

It was that bad.

I refused to agree to the new school until someone explained what happened to the 7-million dollars they got the last time. They didn’t fix the school. I’m pretty sure it went to line the pockets of whoever it was who sat on the town council. No one can prove it, but they can’t disprove it either. I never got an answer and I’m sure I never will.

So when we talk about incivility, our community certainly understands what that means.

Night in Uxbridge

Strangely enough, small towns often have this problem. Maybe it’s how we all know each other. We may not be able to name each person, but we recognize faces. We’ve seen them at the deli, at the grocery, at the doctor. We’ve bumped into them at a fireworks display or on a sidewalk in town. Our kids or grandkids went to school together. People hold grudges, especially in small towns.

Route 16 bridge over the river

We had hoped to become part of the community and “they” — the people who run this place (I don’t even know if they belong to any political party and it wouldn’t matter anyway) would have happily anointed Garry for pretty much anything he wanted to be. Never mind that he didn’t know anything — that’s what your staff is for. They’d seen him on TV. Good enough.

We were in the Rotary, but when they threatened to make Garry president, we ran screaming. Since then, we aren’t involved. The friends we had here died or moved away. Our church, which was less about prayer and more about meeting people, was puzzled to have “a person of Jewish persuasion” in their midst and then, all three close friends died in a brief two years.

On the top, we have a lovely — or potentially lovely — community. Green, full of trees, beginning to grow. Great potential. Below that, though, are angry people who don’t care much about anyone but themselves. They scare the rest of us away. We’d like to help, but we can’t break through the anger.

Sound familiar?

Little girls and short dock into the river

Yet, we love the place. We keep hoping the old ones with the anger issues will resign and let cooler and younger people try to do something positive. It won’t fix the nation, but maybe if we take it one small town at a time, we could make a difference.

FOWC with Fandango — Below

RDP #69 – Community

ATAVISTIC DOESN’T MEAN RUDE – Marilyn Armstrong

ATAVISM, ATAVISTIC

I really liked the Cambridge dictionary definition better:


ATAVISTIC – atavistic meaning: happening because of a very old habit from a long time ago in human history, not because of a conscious decision or because it is necessary …


That sort of sums up the world we are seeing these days. A world where behaviors and patterns of behavior from the past are overtaking modern civility. Although I’m pretty sure back in Rome, they were pretty civil even then. Our rough incivility and crudeness aren’t atavistic. They are merely crude.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I maintain that much of what is wrong with the world pertains to the way we treat each other. If we are kind, generous, and civil, the world remains a fairly well-oiled machine and it’s possible for everyone to hold their opinions without turning every disagreement into warfare.


These days, people seem to have forgotten the things we learned in elementary school. Like “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” and most important, “I’m sorry.” Along with “no bother ” and “I forgive you.”


There’s no point in going on about this. Our world is becoming a crude and ugly place inhabited by people who would not be accepted in any civilized society, now or long in the past.

We aren’t being atavistic. We are simply ill-mannered.

LIVING FOREIGN, BEING FOREIGN

The lack of sympathy for foreign-born immigrants in this country might have something to do with how few people in the U.S. ever lived in a different country. If you have never had to learn new customs, different cultural values, and another language, you probably don’t realize how complicated it can be.

With the best will in the world, not everyone learns a new language easily. Moreover, many customs are so ‘built in” to the way we interact with others, it can be hard to “unlearn” them. 

Smiling at strangers, for example, is very American. We do it automatically unless we are alarmed or frightened. In some other countries — Israel was one — a woman smiling casually at an unfamiliar man is considered a “come on.” Learning to not smile automatically is difficult. It’s a physical habit learned when we are very young.

I was also surprisingly bad at learning Hebrew. In almost a decade, I never became fluent. My son, on the other hand, was fluent in a few months. He had always been able to out-talk me in English, but a few months in Israel and he could out-talk me in two languages at the same time.

Israel was, overall, welcoming to newcomers. America, not so much. That makes everything harder for someone new to the country. Considering most non-Native people in the U.S. are immigrants or the children or grandchildren of immigrants — being nice shouldn’t be all that difficult. Remember your past. Remember your grandparents. Be civil and perhaps even a bit generous.

If you were never an immigrant, someone in your ancestry probably was. Being kind to those who come here from elsewhere should not be all a trial. Give it a try.

Hating foreigners is like hating yourself. 

NOMOROBO AGAIN AND THE FILTERS OF LIFE

FILTER | THE DAILY POST


In the course of disconnecting, then reconnecting our telephone service, Charter also removed all of the settings and filters I had put on my phone. Everything from voice mail to blocking anonymous calls was wiped out. Including NOMOROBO, the add-on that makes having a telephone bearable in a world full of electronic phone calls from people I don’t know, for things I don’t want, for surveys I would never answer. Pitiful pleas for donations to “charities” that don’t exist. Bill collections for people who used to live here and are forever embedded in some calling service’s memory bank.

Without NOMOROBO, the phone rings several times every morning. Early. Always a robotic auto-dialer — no one who knows us would call before noon or minimally, eleven.

I spent several of today’s early hours trying to figure out how to reset my phone to the way it was. Trying to find the settings to stop the telephone from loudly announcing the ‘THIS CALL IS UNAVAILABLE” and mangling even the most ordinary words you’d think it impossible to mess up. I was not going to get any more sleep anyway because the phone was ringing off the damned hook.

Life is hard without filters. Harder for everyone than it ought to be.

Filters keep us on track. Filters on the phone get rid of junk callers and scammers. Filters on email eliminate spam. Filters on this blog keep the trolls from getting through our virtual gate. Our personal filters — the things we won’t say because it’s “not nice” or which we will deeply regret having said — and for which, apologizing is never enough because you can’t erase the memories or destruction left in the wake of a mouth gone rogue.

People complain about filters. They call it the “PC” police. They resent not being able to just say whatever awful stuff comes into their head, no matter who it insults, hurts, belittles.  If you feel this way, you are probably a bigot and a racist, whether or not you know it.  I applaud filters and refer to them as “good manners” and “civility.” They grease the squeaky wheels of society and make it possible for us to live in relative peace and harmony.

Today, we see how one too-powerful man with an unfiltered mouth can do an almost unlimited amount of damage. One man with neither manners nor civility — no filters — can cause life-threatening harm to millions of people. Did he grow up in a barn? Did no one teach him to say “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me”?

He is ugly, cruel, and full of rage. It makes me speculate as to the kind of relationship he had with his parents. Did no one ever give him a hug and tell him he was a good boy? Was his childhood as loveless as the barren, mean-spirited, narcissist who rants daily on our television screens and all over the Internet?

Last night on the Daily Show, Laurence Fishburne, currently playing Mandela – Mandiba, on BET-TV, referred to our current White House occupant simply as “45.” Garry and I immediately realized Mr. Fishburne had given us the answer to a problem with which we have been wrestling. We can’t bear to say his name, but “45” is a tidy, neutral way to identify to whom we are referring without having that name pass our lips. Speaking the name requires excessive oral cleansing to remove that icky taste. Yuk.

I think people who play bridge are going to have a problem. Just saying.

IS POLITICAL CORRECTNESS STIFLING YOU?

If you think being “politically correct” is ruining your ability to communicate, you’ve got other unaddressed issues … like …. maybe you’re a bigot. If you can’t express yourself without insulting individuals or groups, your problem isn’t political correctness. It goes a lot deeper than that.


Political Correctness is the avoidance of forms of expression or action that exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”

Simply put, it means treading carefully, gently — and preferably not at all — on other people’s sensibilities and sensitivities. It’s the “golden rule,” sometimes called the ethic of reciprocity: Don’t do something to anyone else that which you wouldn’t want done to youIt’s a fundamental principle of human interaction, the bottom line of being a decent person.

I’m for political correctness. Especially with Orange Head running for president. “Being P.C.” means controlling your mouth. It means not spewing insults at minorities, ethnic, or religious groups, disabled people, disenfranchised, or downtrodden people, or anyone who just happens to be different from you.

politically_correct-01

Bigotry isn’t okay — whether it’s put straight out there, or presented thinly disguised as humor. We all used to know this. We were taught — most of us — to be polite and careful about not hurting other people’s feelings. We were brought up to not insult others. Not by accident and definitely not on purpose. We all should know this without being reminded … but with You-Know-Who setting a really horrible example, a lot of people are getting a very warped idea of what’s okay. Trump not only doesn’t care who or what he offends, he goes out of his way to make people feel bad. To shame and humiliate people, with a strong emphasis on women. To make those who are already suffering feel worse. He’s a demagogue, a schoolyard bully writ larger and uglier than ever.

What a guy. Just what we need to lead this great land.

So, for the socially challenged, the simple rule is: “IF YOU THINK IT’S OFFENSIVE, DON’T SAY IT.” As a rule, this works better than any amount of sensitivity training. Especially since so many people seem to have no sensitivity to train.

Offensive is what it seems to be, even when whoever said it insists he or she “didn’t mean it”

“Hey, folks, I was just kidding. Can’t you take a joke?” It’s the classic bully’s line. Of course he meant it. Bullies always mean it, but being a bully, he or she counts on you to avoid a confrontation.

It’s time to confront the bullies. Time to tell them they aren’t funny and we aren’t laughing. Bigotry, racism, and cruelty are not funny. It’s not about political correctness. It’s about civility. Kindness. Good manners. Decency. Fairness.

Standing up for what’s right even when it’s inconvenient.

It’s what has really made America great.

ON BEING DISAGREEABLE

It’s a real thing and it’s a TV thing. It’s a local thing. It’s international, too.

People are rude. Not argumentative and contentious. They are also that, especially in the heat of battle, so to speak. It goes beyond that. They are rude because it seems that politeness, civility, and simple good manners are currently out-of-fashion. Saying please — and sounding like you mean it — and thank you (and really meaning it) are missing-in-action.

You see it on TV shows a lot.

Scenario 1: The reporter is interviewing a subject. Instead of asking questions, he’s acting as if he’s a cop with a guilty perp. He’s interrogating his subject. He won’t let him fully answer the question before he fires off another shot across the bow. Why?

Garry got great interviews by asking questions politely, then waiting for the answer. Listening to what the interviewee said … and then following up with relevant questions. Especially if you’re dealing with people you will have to get interviews from regularly — the mayor, the police chief, judges, politicians — what’s the point of antagonizing them? You get more from people who like you than people who want to throttle you.

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Scenario 2: The cop is asking people if they’ve seen a person and holds up a picture. (Alternate scenario, cop stops driver and asks the ritual question “Sir/Madam, do you know how fast you were going?”) The kid, guy, gal, whoever — and I’ve seen this in as many shows originating in the U.K. as in U.S. versions — snarls something nasty and surly.

Okay. I get that you don’t like police, but why rile up the man with the gun and badge? Now he’s going to take a much harder look at you. You don’t really want that, so if you don’t want to coöperate, why not be civil anyhow? It could save you a ticket. Or a bullet. Rudeness is always counter-productive.

You see it in everyday. You ask the person packing your bags at the supermarket to please not put the bread (or eggs) under the heavy stuff because squashed bread is hard to use for sandwiches. They sneer at you like you’re some kind of senile old bat. Bet they wouldn’t feel that way if it was their bread arriving home flattened and useless.

Half of the world’s problems would disappear overnight if everyone would be nice. Sounds simplistic, I know but there are plenty of horrendous life-and-death issues to grapple with. Saying “please” and “thank you” while omitting the sarcasm might go quite a way towards lowering the temperature of our over-heated world.

Manners are free, you know? Civility doesn’t cost a single penny. They would not increase the national debt or require more taxation. Being nice, kind, thoughtful, and polite to others doesn’t make you a sissy. It makes you a citizen. A good one.

I’m absolutely sure being disagreeable, snarky, nasty, and sarcastic never improved a relationship or a situation. And best of all, being polite, being nice feels good.

DISAGREE | THE DAILY POST

A RARE MOMENT OF CIVILITY IN THE SPAMALOT UNIVERSE

We all get a lot of junk email. I suppose I should be grateful that I don’t still get the pounds of paper I used to get. I felt guilty throwing away all that stuff … but I can delete email with nary a twinge.

A few weeks ago, I entered a contest to win a free Kindle. It turned out the result was that I got subscribed to dozens of indie author websites. I’m all in favor of free books … but this was a deluge of stuff and it was an avalanche, gaining momentum as it hurtled down the mountain.

I’ve been unsubscribing as fast as I could find the right link.

A few days ago, I got this email. It was so polite, so civil, so … well … just nice, I actually resubscribed just because I appreciated there was at least one person who recognized that spamming your potential followers might not be the best approach.

I was so impressed, I re-subscribed. Just to show my appreciation.


Dear Marilyn,

Last Friday you received an e-mail titled “What fantasy books to read for the summer”. This e-mail was sent to almost 5000 people, whose addresses were obtained through a contest run by http://www.freekindlegiveaway.com, a contest for which I was one of the sponsors.

One of the terms for participating in that contest was to agree to be subscribed to a number of authors’ mailing lists, including my own. This contest was run a few months ago, and I received your e-mail addresses early in June.

jeroen steenbeke books page

I hesitated using your e-mail addresses. Before said contest my mailing list only had 83 subscribers, so a sudden growth of 6000% is no small thing. That said, the responses to Friday’s mail have been mixed. I’ve seen a surge in downloads, and I’ve also seen a surge in unsubscribes. I kind of expected that. Had I participated in a contest that required me to subscribe to mailing lists I would probably unsubscribe at the first received e-mail as well. What I had not expected was the number of people who filed complaints with MailChimp, or the response by MailChimp itself. In essence: they strongly urged me to reconsider my strategy for obtaining new subscribers.

I have given this some thought, and have, after some consideration, decided to automatically unsubscribe every single person that received Friday’s e-mail. As such, this e-mail is a confirmation that you are no longer subscribed to my book update mailing list, and will not receive any future mass-mailings from me unless you manually resubscribe through my sign-up page.

In addition, I would like to apologize for any inconvenience my mails have caused. I am not a fan of unsolicited mail myself, and each time I get a newsletter I don’t remember signing up for I have a tendency to complain rather loudly. I am sorry for having caused similar discomfort to others, and I hope you’ll all forgive me.

Sincerely,

Jeroen Steenbeeke

PLAY NICE AND PUT DOWN THE SHOVEL

It’s one of the first things every mother teaches her kid. Or should.

“Play nice. Don’t hit little Jimmy with that shovel. Don’t take Ellen’s doll. Play nice or other children won’t want to play with you.”

Apparently, mom’s lesson went in one ear and out the other. Because no one remembers how to be nice anymore. Civility has vanished. Everyone seems to be on some kind of weird narcissistic power trip where only their needs, their opinion, their feelings matter. Screw everyone else. It’s all about me. Only me.

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Mother — yours and mine — had a point. If you don’t play nice with the other kids, they won’t like you. They won’t invite you to their parties. They may not like you anyway, but if you’re mean and hit them and take their toys? They definitely won’t like you.

We’ve been binge-watching “Scandal.” As we head around the bend into the final few shows of the fourth season, I looked at Garry and said “If they weren’t so horrible to each other … if they weren’t always spying on each other, threatening each other, torturing and killing each other … they wouldn’t have so many enemies. They wouldn’t have to watch their backs all the time. If they were just nicer to each other, a lot of problems would vanish. All it would take is simple civility.” Of course it wouldn’t make a very interesting show, but that’s a completely separate issue.

Which is not, apparently, all that simple.

Love in theory

And not just on the TV series. In the real body politic. On a national and international level. Everyone is so adversarial, nasty, cruel, ugly, dirty, mean-spirited. They’ve forgotten the old “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” thing. Not that I ever understood why you’d particularly want to attract flies, but obviously, that’s not the point.

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What it — and all our mothers — meant is that being nice often works out better, gets you what you want in more situations than being unpleasant and contentious. When I watch television and they show reporters attacking the people they are supposedly trying to interview, I remember that Garry never attacked anyone … and he always got his interview. Because he knew that some chit-chat — friendly conversation — would get him a better interview than an attack.

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We should all get back to basics.

Please. Thank you. Excuse me. Like that.

Not hitting each other with shovels, verbally or otherwise. Our world could be a fine place if we would just play nice. We are in the sandbox together. We might as well make an effort to get along.

You think?

HOPE HAS A GOOD MEMORY, GRATITUDE A BAD ONE

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Tell us about the time when you performed a secret random act of kindness — where the recipient of your kindness never found out about your good deed. How did the deed go down?

Throughout my adult life, since I was old enough to be responsible for my own actions, I have given when I could to people who needed it. And I have received — if not in equal measure, certainly when in real need — from others, though rarely from the people to whom I have given. Karma doesn’t work like that.

I assume this is not talking about holding a door or helping someone put groceries in their trunk. Letting someone who is obviously in a hurry go before you on the cashier’s line. Changing seats on the bus or airplane so someone else can be nearer their husband or child … or the toilet. I don’t consider such things kindnesses, but rather common courtesies everyone should extend to everyone else. Always, without thought or regard for payback or even thanks. I couldn’t even remember 99% of them. They are to me — and I assume to most people — automatic. Programmed into our social DNA. Or should be. Just call them “manners.”

I don’t keep score. I’ve taken people in when they had nowhere to go, sometimes for years. I have been taken in when I had nowhere to go. I’ve fed the hungry and been fed when I was hungry. I’ve delivered groceries to people in dire need, given clothing, computers, musical instruments, books, bags, furniture and the occasional automobile because I had more than I needed and they didn’t have enough. Was it done in secret? No. I usually respond to needs spontaneously when someone makes it known. I hear they need a coat, would love to own that book, need a car. Don’t know how they’re going to feed the family this week. I give what I have to fill a need.

Does it make the gift less worthy? I don’t think so. Do I require a lifetime of gratitude in exchange? You’re kidding, right?

It reminds me of the story told about William Randolph Hearst, who remarked upon seeing an old adversary on the street, “I don’t know why he hates me, I never did him a favor.” And there are many similar quotes.

“Hope has a good memory, gratitude a bad one.” — Baltasar Gracian.

“Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive.” — Edward Gibbon

Dr. Malherbe of Natal University said to Field Marshal Smuts as he left a political meeting, “Why were those two hecklers at the back so bitterly hostile?” Smuts replied, “I understand the feelings of one of them very well indeed. He and I were brought up together in the same small town in the Western Cape. I got him his first appointment—and his second. In fact, he owes all his worldly success to me. But I don’t know why the other was so hostile. I never did him a favor in my life.”

“You did him a favor. He’ll never forgive you for that.” — The Boxer 1997

Those are the tip of the iceberg. If you do a good deed, do not expect it to come back to you as gratitude or in kind. Such expectations will doom you to disappointment.

Acts of kindness and generosity do not make friendships. More often than not, they stir up resentment. People hate owing debts of gratitude. The most popular people are always those who don’t do anything for anybody. Those are the folks who are admired and adored, followed and emulated. Don’t ask me why. Human nature is a peculiar thing. The longer I live, the less sense it makes.

If you figure it out, be sure to let me know. It’s one of the deepest secrets of life. Very deep. Very secret.