As a historian and history teacher, I have looked at many old photographs and films. I often included these in my classes and marveled at how my students saw things in the photos that I overlooked.
I especially remember showing some grainy film of a baseball game from about 1910. I wanted to illustrate how the rise of the city allowed large groups of people to attend professional sporting events and other entertainment.
When I asked the students what they saw in the film clip, several answered – almost in unison – “all the men were wearing suits and ties.”
“Yes,” I responded. “It was a more polite time. People used to know how to dress.”
Selling an Unfortunate Impulse
I recalled this little scene when contemplating the title of a recently released book – Rude: Stop Being Nice and Start Being Bold by Rebecca Reed. I was intrigued that something once seen as a vice could be presented as a virtue.
I went to the “Look Inside” tab on its Amazon page to find out more. The author describes the event that triggered the book. She was part of a television talk show panel. One panelist presented his opinion, and then it was Miss Reed’s turn to give hers. She began her presentation when the man started talking over her. She put her finger to her lips – as parents and schoolteachers once did – and told him to be quiet. The scene earned her the nickname of “Rebecca Rude.”
She then continued, “But the longer it goes on, the more people call me “Rebecca Rude,” the more I start to realize: the last decade of my life has been a journey to deprogram myself.… I become ruder. And it is no coincidence that the ruder I get, the happier and more successful I become. Rudeness, I realize, is a talent. And rather than shying away from it, I’m going to turn it into my own personal superpower.”
My first response was that Miss Reed was not rude. Assuming her description of the incident was accurate, she acted appropriately in asking the panelist to be polite. It was her turn to speak. One rule of civilized discourse is that people don’t interrupt others.
Can Rudeness be Virtuous?
However, it seems rules have changed and insisting that someone else be polite is interpreted as rude. At the same time, being rude is a good thing. It is all very confusing.
Rude has many synonyms – including crude, uncouth, inelegant, discourteous, coarse, vulgar, and abrupt. Many of these words also apply to the general state of current society.
Why would anyone want to be any of those things? Yet, people are choosing to be rude everywhere. Rudeness is now a virtue.
Accolades from the Rude for the Rude
For example, in the summer of 2018, then-presidential Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and a group of friends sat down at a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. After ordering food and drinks, Mrs. Sanders was recognized by an employee who called the owner, who was not in the restaurant. The owner came in after the appetizers but before the main course. She then abruptly told Mrs. Sanders and her party to leave the restaurant since she disagreed politically with her.
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Time Magazine quoted the owner, “I would have done the same thing again…. The owner further said she told Sanders, “the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.”
However, the restaurant owner’s blatant rudeness is contrary to the cause of honesty, compassion, or cooperation since it failed to treat others with courtesy and respect.
Later, Rep. Maxine Waters publicly commended the restaurant owner’s action in words that were far ruder than anything that Mrs. Sanders said about it. “If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, at a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out, and you create a crowd, and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” The press’s overall tone was jocular as if Rep. Waters had said something they wished they could say. Thousands on Facebook and Twitter cheered at this triumph of rudeness.
An End that Does Not Justify the Means
So, with all apologies to Rebecca Reed, I will not be buying a copy of Rude: Stop Being Nice and Start Being Bold. Courtesy is a Christian virtue that recognizes the dignity and consideration that is due to those around us if we are to live together in peace. It creates conditions for social harmony and cooperation. Being rude is selfish, hateful and disgusting. It leads to the uncivil society all around us.
Nobody should want to be rude. It is time for society to stop encouraging it.