The rules of polite behavior may sometimes feel restrictive, but when people use them, they make new and awkward situations more comfortable.
How do you feel when you walk into a public rest room and there are papers all over the floor, unflushed toilets, and wet toilet seats? If you’re a woman, you’re probably disgusted – men tend to be less reactive to it. However, men – what about discourteous drivers? Most of us don’t like rude "customer service" staff; long waits on senseless phone answering systems, the stock in the hardware or grocery store being all muddled and out of order, graffiti, litter and debris on our sidewalks and highways, public spitting, and people loudly talking on their cell phones in a restaurant or in line at the bank. The larger our cities get, and the more people don’t know each other, and the easier it seems to be to be rude and careless about public behavior and property.
I've written about the power of politeness before: http://tinatessina.com/power_of_politeness.html but that was on a person-to-person level. "Politeness and consideration are powerful. We all want to be liked, to be cared about and to be treated gently. We’re human, so we don’t always succeed in behaving our best. But, the more kindness and consideration we send out, the more returns to us," I wrote.
"Rules of etiquette exist because to create civilization, we need boundaries. The rules of polite behavior may sometimes feel restrictive, but when people use them, they make new and awkward situations more comfortable. Etiquette is just a prescribed way of being polite and considerate to others. As we get to know each other better, we can relax the rules, but keeping the attitudes of consideration and respect guarantees a more successful connection."
Even in anonymous situations, this holds true . Do you remember the movie and book titled Pay it Forward ? Its concept was: if someone does something nice for you or helps you, and you can’t really repay them, do kind things for others as a way of paying your debt of gratitude. In other words, pay it forward. The thing about this process is that it tends to get other people thinking about being more considerate themselves. The lockers in the gym I go to tend to be left open, papers on the floor, etc. I notice, when I go around and close all the open, empty lockers (which is better for the hinges – and we’ve lost a few doors lately) other people tend to close theirs. People are also less likely to mess up a tidy bathroom than a messy one. The "broken windows theory" employed to such good effect in several cities around the country posits that if you fix problems while they are small, that further petty crime and low-level anti-social behavior will be deterred. In other words, people are influenced to be more careful about messing up clean and neat surroundings than messy ones.
So, in the interest of making all our lives more courteous and pleasant, I offer these suggestions for Public Politeness. I got some of the suggestions from other people on Twitter. Feel free to post them in your favorite public restroom, online wherever you like, and hand them out to passers-by in the street. This will be up on my website shortly after you get it, so you can get the URL there if you’d like to tweet it or put it on Facebook. I’d appreciate it if you make sure I’m listed as the author, however. I’ll be happy to take any complaints that come my way.
Do I really have to say these things? Apparently, yes. Somehow, consideration for those who will be in the space after people is dying – I hope to revive it.
Guidelines for Public Politeness
By Tina B. Tessina www.tinatessina.com
1. Public rest rooms, classrooms, waiting areas, etc: Please think about the other people who will be here after you. If you accidentally drop a paper on the floor, please pick it up and discard it properly. If you’re worried about keeping your hands clean, use another paper to pick up the dropped one, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. Please don’t leave toilet seats in an unuseable condition (don’t leave them wet) Use a toilet seat cover if you’re afraid of germs, or pick up the seat if you’re not gong to sit on it, so the next person doesn’t get a sprayed seat. If the area is messy, report it to someone. If there are no supplies, report it to someone.
2. On the sidewalk, public busses, trains and other transportation. Think of the people who will come after you. Don’t leave food wrappers, discarded reading material, and other garbage just lying around. If there’s no trash receptacle, keep your discarded items until you get to the nearest trash can. Please don’t smash bottles in front of other people’s houses. Don’t empty your car ashtray in the gutter in front of someone’s house. Don’t spit on the street or sidewalk – it’s disgusting to others, and unsanitary. Please pick up after your pet. Even if your mama picked up after you all your life, you’re a grownup now, and it’s your job to pick up after yourself. If two or more of you are walking on the sidewalk and someone approaches, don’t force them off the sidewalk – move aside and make room. Oh, yes, and the old standby– if someone elderly, pregnant, or obviously disabled is standing, and you are young and able, get up and give up your seat.
3. When driving, understand that your car has turn signals for a reason. Their purpose is to let others know what your intent is, so they can safely drive past you, or they’ll know when to wait. Giving no signal really increases the likelihood that you’ll be endangering yourself or others. A turn signal is also a polite way of asking to be allowed in to another lane on multiple-lane roads; so if you see one, let the driver in. It actually is faster than forcing him to create a traffic jam because someone rudely refused to allow access. Polite driving is safe driving. Honoring traffic rules, speed limits, and stop signs keeps you and everyone else safe. Rushing through like a maniac wins you nothing (it doesn’t even save time) and puts you, your passengers and everyone else in danger. You may think you have great reflexes and driving skills, but so did everyone else who got killed speeding. Also, please pay attention to pedestrians – especially in the rain or bad weather, when your car driving by might splatter or splash them, even if they’re on the curb. Oh, yes – noise. Honking and loud music, especially in residential areas at night or early morning is not appreciated by anyone who has to hear it. Neither are overly loud mufflers or motorcycles.
4. Treat service people with courtesy. Most of them will respond in kind. Even if you’re unhappy with something the bank, restaurant, business, agency or store did wrong, it’s probably not the fault of the person who’s assisting you. If you feel they aren’t helping, politely ask to see a manager. If you can get help no other way, try looking up the Public Relations person online, and phoning them. I’ve found that I can get fast, effective help when I’m talking to the person who understands the power of the company’s public image. I’ve also found that the very helpful staff at the office of my City Councilperson will help me find the right person to speak to in a government bureaucracy. It’s amazing what can get done if you stay calm, keep your thinking clear, and ask directly and politely for what you want.
5. In hospitals, convalescent centers, hospices and other places where people are ill, if you’re visiting a friend, be considerate of the person in the nearby bed. Maybe your friend or family member is feeling better and enjoying a rowdy conversation, but the person nearby may not be able to sleep. Even your ailing friend might not tell you that sitting on the bed is creating pain, or staying too long is exhausting. Think about how you’d feel in that situation, and be courteous.
Even in the waiting areas, anxiety about your loved one can cause waiting family members and friends to forget. Please be mindful of where you are and considerate of the staff and other patients. Everyone there is probably as anxious as you are, and should be granted consideration.
6. I’m sure I’ve left out many situations, and I’d love to hear your own pet peeves. In general, public politeness means mindfulness – being aware that other people are around you, others will come after you, and behaving with consideration and kindness to everyone – even those who aren’t here yet. You’ll find you feel good about yourself for doing it, and if you believe "what goes around, comes around" you know you’ll get a return on your investment.
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. "Dr. Romance" http://www.tinatessina.com is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page); How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page); The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley) and The Real 13th Step: Discovering Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs (New Page.) Her newest books, from Adams Press in 2008: Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage and Commuter Marriage. She publishes "Happiness Tips from Tina", an e-mail newsletter, and the "Dr. Romance Blog" http://drromance.typepad.com/dr_romance_blog/ and has hosted "The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the subconscious" a weekly hour long radio show. Online, she is "Dr. Romance" with columns at Divorce360.com, CougarCandyStore.com, and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Love Network expert. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and such TV shows as "Oprah", "Larry King Live" and ABC news. Follow her on www.twitter.com/tinatessina , and www.facebook.com/tinatessina