Rudeness is in the Mind of the Beholder


While in principle, I agree with this meme, I also think it’s too general to be accepted without a huge caveat. And I mean HUGE. Like on the scale of the Grand Canyon. Rudeness is so subjective that in many respects it defies description. For example, what constitutes rude to someone in Atlanta may be business-as-usual for someone in Brooklyn. Certain ethnic groups likewise have vastly different standards of behavior. What’s offensive to someone from England will be entirely different than a native of Italy.

Okay, before I go any further, please note that I’m talking about the subjective interpretation of rudeness. I’m not talking about when a person is confrontational. That’s an entirely different situation, which fits the above meme much better, but the words don’t flow quite as nicely. Maybe part of the problem is so many people don’t know the difference.

There have been numerous references to individuals referred to as “snowflakes” lately, a term I didn’t fully understand until I happened upon its definition: Someone who is easily hurt or offended. Aha! Makes perfect sense–someone whose ego is so fragile that they figuratively “melt” when they encounter something contrary to their personal paradigm.

I was raised that it was foolish to take offense when none was intended. In other words, sometimes you won’t like something a person says, perhaps because they’re a bit too outspoken or raised with a different standard of what equates to “rude” behavior.  Remember Dorothy on “The Golden Girls?” Her behavior could certainly be considered “rude”.

However, if it was not intended as a slam, insult, or challenge, then it seems foolish to get your panties in a wad. Some people are programmed that way, aren’t even aware of it, and seldom mean it as perceived. Or maybe they meant it at the time, but overreaction on your part can result in a rift that never closes. By the next day the offending party may have already forgotten about it while you’re just getting started nursing a grudge. It takes two, remember?

While rudeness is indeed in the mind of the beholder, it’s important to consider whether that judgment is correct. A person’s reaction is also in their court. There are those who are so easily hurt or offended that you cannot relax around them, but tiptoe on eggshells so as not to ruffle their precious feathers. Such people go off in a huff if you offend them, yet you may not even know why. So who’s at fault? Whose responsibility is it? Who’s the bigger person, or in the case of the meme, the stronger person? The one who was “rude” or the one who didn’t react?

The world has enough whiners and martyrs out there who apparently never learned in elementary school that “Sticks and bones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. Even if a person IS being overtly rude, how you react is your responsibility. In that case, why give them the satisfaction of reacting? Who’s the stronger person then?

To be fair, just as some are programmed to be outspoken or lack a tact filter, some are programmed to be more sensitive. To those individuals author Karen Ingalls presents an excellent suggestion in her book “Outshine”, which chronicles her bout with ovarian cancer. She writes, “What we say may not always come out the way we intended. It creates an opportunity for the receiver to bring comfort to an awkward or embarrassing time with smiling and laughing rather than with defensiveness or anger. Sometimes what seems like an insult is actually a compliment that just came out the wrong way.”

Furthermore, many instances of being offended and/or suffering from hurt feelings can be avoided by giving the alleged offender the benefit of the doubt. Jumping to conclusions will often create problems that could have been avoided.

Rather than judging everyone out there and expecting them to conform to your rules, it  pays to assess your own response. Take responsibility for the one and only individual in the known universe whom you can control–yourself. If you need some additional help, I suggest listening to this 1994 classic from the Eagles. Several years ago when I was a manager at NASA, my group had a sing-a-long with these lyrics at one of our staff meetings. Try memorizing the melody, then hum it the next time someone gets your goat.

It’s the classic answer to being too easily offended: Get over it.

2 thoughts on “Rudeness is in the Mind of the Beholder

  1. Thanks for the excellent essay. Wish I could forward it to someone I know who sees rudeness everywhere it’s not. I think she’d consider that rude, though. Sometimes it’s better to avoid people who can’t see real for the filters they construct. That applies to way more behaviors (or perceived ones) than rudeness, though. Thanks again, Marcha Fox!

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