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Why Be Polite?

I’m generally not extremely rude, but as Sarah and many others would be happy to tell you, I’m not all about pleasantries. Basically I’ve never seen the point of certain kinds of small talk. To make things worse, I know almost nothing about sports and have thus disqualified myself from a large proportion of male small talk. Also, I’m not that interested in people being polite to me, most of the time. During my first few months in Utah — where people are fairly polite — I was actually a little freaked out.

Lately I’ve started to better see the value of being polite, through my kids. When the three year old says at breakfast “Dad may I have a glass of water please?” I’m usually happy to get up and get the water.  On the other hand, if one of them calls out “THIRSTY!” (this actually happened one time and he’ll be lucky to live it down before leaving home) then not only do I fail to be filled with the desire to get him something to drink, but also visions of boarding school pop into my head. Military boarding school.

On my part, I try to be polite with the kids, for example when asking them to clear their places at the table. They do seem to appreciate being treated respectfully. Overall, given a group of people in close proximity who have to help each other out, life is nicer when people are at least moderately polite. Who knew?

{ 7 } Comments

  1. Robby | July 23, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    So, when you are telling your kids to do something do they get “would you please go clean up your room?” or do they get “go clean up your room.”?

    (While I agree with your new self generally about politeness sometimes I wonder about commands. They aren’t requests are they!)

  2. regehr | July 23, 2010 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Robby, you’re right: sometimes requests are really veiled commands. But aren’t these the situations where politeness helps most, because if it works we can all pretend it was actually a request?

  3. Robby | July 23, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Oh man. You’re way out of my depth now. Too much subtlety! :)

  4. Suresh | July 23, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    “Overall, given a group of people in close proximity who have to help each other out, life is nicer when people are at least moderately polite”

    why does this remind me of faculty meetings ?

  5. Robby Findler | July 23, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Suresh: on the other hand, politeness requires twice the number words and, in a faculty meeting, that can easily mean twice the amount of time spent ….

  6. regehr | July 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Politeness may require many words but I’d settle for common courtesy which could be terse :).

  7. David V. | July 28, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Agreed: I was raised to be “overly polite” but my parents didn’t return the favor often. With my own children, I make extra effort to talk to them like I expect them to talk to me, and when I occasionally realize I have been less than polite, I apologize for my lack of respect.

    My wife wasn’t raised the same way, but she agrees too and tries her best.