A sign outside a restaurant in Bristol in July 2021. Credit: Susan Young / BDN

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Perhaps it’s because I’m related to etiquette expert Emily Post (a distant relative on my father’s side). Maybe it’s because Queen Elizabeth II just died. It could be because my parents were old, and hence, old fashioned. Or, maybe I’m becoming a curmudgeon.

Whatever the reason, I’m fed up with boorish behavior. I’m not talking about the horrific rise in the threat of violence — or worse, actual violence —- to settle disagreements. I hope reasonable people can agree such behavior is unacceptable and should be punished.

And, I’m not talking about knowing what glass to use for a cordial versus chardonnay or how to eat soup without slurping. Those types of manners were developed to separate the wealthy from the rest of us.

I’m talking about simple courtesy. Like saying please and thank you.

Think of the many interactions you have each day.

When you want someone to do something for you, whether it be to take your order at a restaurant or to push an elevator button for you or to help you complete an assignment at work, do you just bark out the order or do you say “please”? Do you thank people when they’ve done what you’ve asked?

How do you feel when the roles are flipped and you’re asked — by family, friends, coworkers or strangers — to do things and they don’t say “please” or don’t thank you when you’ve done it?

My standard is simple: If it irritates you, don’t do it to other people. It’s the Golden Rule, essentially.

Surveys – and commenters – have been pointing out for decades that our society is getting more coarse.

According to a survey done in 2016 by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 74 percent of Americans believe that manners and behavior have deteriorated in the U.S.

But, here’s the thing, if so many people think it’s a problem, why aren’t we all doing something about it? If three-quarters of people think we’ve become more rude, it is disingenuous to suggest that this is entirely the fault of the other quarter of the population. Digging deeper into the AP study, 80 percent of people said using vulgar and bigoted language was inappropriate, but only 7 percent acknowledged that they have used sexist or racist terms and only a third admit that they swear in public. So, a lot of us aren’t owning up to our own rude behavior.

When health care facilities, restaurants and stores have to put up signs urging people not to yell at or threaten the staff, we know we’ve got a serious problem on our hands. When teachers and other public officials are leaving their jobs because they can no longer stand the harassment and threats, we’ve got to rethink our priorities.

Some people blame our increasing hostility to one another on COVID, suggesting that our time apart from one another have made us forget to behave. I think that’s a generous explanation.

So what to do? The blithe answer is to simply be nice. That means treating one another with respect and empathy. Realize, for example, that the line at your favorite coffee shop may be moving slower than you’d like because they may be short staffed or because customers are placing complicated orders. Whatever the reason, it isn’t because they are trying to make your life miserable.

As with other stressful situations, there are some simple things to do to get back on track. Slow down, take a deep breath and reassess your situation. Is anger going to help? Probably not. If you were an overworked employee, how would you want to be treated? Would you rather be yelled at or thanked for working under difficult circumstances?

Treating one another with courtesy and respect by itself isn’t going to solve major problems or bridge gaping political and societal divides, but it can help and it will make day-to-day life more pleasant. That would be a good thing.

Avatar photo

Susan Young

Susan Young is the opinion editor at the Bangor Daily News. She has worked for the BDN for over 25 years as a reporter and editor.