Books: F You Very Much by Danny Wallace

(subtitle: Understanding the Culture of Rudeness—and What We Can Do About It)

I am, I realize, what some call “a stickler.” Maybe it’s the way I was raised. I don’t know. But I suffer from a sensitivity to rudeness, and I’ve noticed an increase in said rudeness as well. So when I saw this book on the library shelf, I had to read it.

Author Danny Wallace is best known for his humor, and his writing style here imbues the topic with comedy so that the book itself is a very quick and pleasant read. But don’t let that lead you to believe the book is inconsequential. Wallace speaks with experts and even funded his own poll in order to get a better grip on the subject.

Are we getting ruder? It seems so. Why? Possibly the rise of self-centered narcissism. When we only think of ourselves, we have no reason to be polite to others because others don’t matter.

I consider the rude teens in my neighborhood who ride loud motorbikes up and down the street, even though there is a space designated for riding within, well, riding distance. I think about the kids who think it’s fun for some reason to ring our doorbell and run away—literally, their entire idea of entertainment being to annoy people. And when we tried to confront them about their behavior, a parent assaulted my husband and I received threatening emails. Because these parents don’t want to discipline their kids, but they don’t want anyone else to do it either.

This is a big part of the problem, I think.

When I was a child, any adult in the neighborhood was free to reprimand us. You had respect for them.

But this post is meant to be about the book. Sufficient to say I identify with the subject matter and found the book very interesting. For instance, consider Dunbar’s number, which says there is a limit to the number of social relationships we can have. In terms of rudeness, we tend not to be rude to our in-crowd. Anyone else, however, may be fair game because (again) they do not matter to us. Particularly if they are someone we’re not likely to see again—a server at a restaurant we don’t frequent, for example, or someone on the other end of a tech support phone line. We see no social drawbacks to being rude to such people; there are no lasting consequences for misbehaving where they are concerned. If we were to act in such a way with people we do see regularly, there certainly would be backlash. Our social standing would be affected.

I’ll give another example from personal experience. I walk my kids to school, and many other kids bike to school. There is a bike lane. However, one boy persistently rides on the pavement. I’ve talked to him about it many times, but he refuses to use the bike lane, saying “My parents never taught me that.” (The parents again! And before you say that the bike lane may be too dangerous, this boy is 10, and ever other biker uses the lane without trouble. I would also argue that, if one thinks the bike lane is too dangerous, one should not be biking to school.) Even after a bike rules and safety program at the school, this boy refuses to use the bike lane. And I’ve seen him nearly get hit a number of times because he also does not stop to look before biking across the street.

And then one day I did see him get hit.

Lucky for him and the driver both that it was not serious. The boy was fine; the bike was not. I spoke to the driver and got his information. I walked the boy to school, carrying his bike and talking to him the whole way. I took him to the school office and was witness to the police report.

But do you know what? My feelings about that boy have changed. He still rides on the pavement, but now he’ll say, “Excuse me,” if he comes up behind us while we're walking. And I’ll greet him by name and ask him how he’s doing. My ire at him being on the pavement has dissipated. He’s become part of my social circle. I give him allowances I wouldn’t give others, people I don’t know.

Isn’t that interesting? That we can have different sets of rules for different people? We hold people to different standards based on how much authority we perceive them to have or whether or not we know them well.

It’s that kind of thing that makes F You Very Much a thought-provoking read. One I highly recommend to anyone worried about the direction our world is going, at least in terms of civility.

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