Why are we rude?

23 04 2013

While coaching my son’s robotics team last fall, I had the opportunity to eat lunch with my son at the same fast food place near the school every Saturday. It was owned and operated by a middle eastern couple. They were very friendly and came to recognize us when we came in for our weekly robotics lunch. Every other time we went there, it seemed, one of the other customers would treat the gentleman making the sandwiches rudely. We decided to make a concerted effort to be extra nice to him to try to counteract the people who went out of their way to be rude. This got me thinking about rudeness and the reasons people are rude.

This topic dovetails nicely into my interest with motivation and how it is tied into our behavior. So what motivates people to be rude? I’ve got several ideas.

1. Obliviousness – People are selfish by nature and that means that they are most of the time thinking about themselves. When in that ‘zone’, people are not thinking about how their actions are affecting those they are around. They are often in their own world and not realizing that their actions could be considered rude to others.

Take, for example, a person that sits in the first row on a bus that is set aside for elderly people. When an elderly person enters the bus, instead of allowing them to take their seat, the oblivious rude person just sits there, unaware that their actions are rude.

I realize that it is possible in the above scenario that the person that doesn’t give up their seat may very well know that they should move for the elderly. My tendency is to give people the benefit of the doubt, however.

2. Laziness – Like Obliviousness, this motivation for rudeness stems from selfishness. The person knows that their behavior is rude, but they don’t want to bother themselves with altering their behavior because it may call for extra effort.

This would be the person in the above example that doesn’t move because they don’t want to move. Often, the laziness will be coupled with justification, such as telling oneself that the older person looks fit enough to sit in the back of the bus. Besides, the person thinks, first come, first serve.

3. False Altruism – Some people think they are being rude as a favor to the other person. This type of rude person seeks to motivate the victim to change in a way the purveyor of rudeness deems appropriate. The rude behavior is a negative reinforcement meant to teach a lesson. The message is do what I want or the rudeness will continue.

For example, one lady at the restaurant we frequented was upset that the server didn’t put enough mayo on her sub. She proceeded to speak to him rudely about his oversight. He attempted to accommodate her by adding more mayo only for the woman to ratchet up the rudeness because there was now too much mayo. Poor guy never had a chance.

4. Peer Pressure – Human nature drives us to want to be accepted into a group. Part of being in a group, you may even say what defines a group, is sharing common values with the group. This can lead to a kind of herd mentality. When a member of the group is confronted with someone who they perceive to be sufficiently different from their group, they respond to that person rudely. We see this a lot with bullying. When someone is singled out as different by the ‘popular kids’, that person is treated rudely by people who want to be popular.

5. Crankiness – Some people are rude just because they have never learned to tolerate other people. My instinct is to link crankiness with depression. The cranky person does not have a positive view of the world and that colors his view of other people. They are slogging through their existence in a horrible world filled with horrible people who refuse to do things the way the cranky person wants. It’s depressing when the world doesn’t voluntarily bend to your will.

6. Annoyance Avoidance – Rudeness creates a separation that comes in handy when you don’t want to get close to some one. Who better to keep your distance from than someone who annoys you. This type of rudeness is a defence mechanism. It can also be a warning – if you associate yourself with me, you are going to receive more rudeness.

7. Revenge – Rudeness can be used as a weapon to wield against those who have done you wrong. It can be used as a preemptive weapon as well. People are sometimes rude because they think the victim doesn’t like them. This can become a self-fulfilling prophesy and can kick off an escalation in rudeness. When someone is rude to you, your inclination is to return the rudeness with rudeness.

8. Glorification – For some, being rude is an artform and people derive glory from their ability to be rude. You will find this a lot in comment sections of news articles. This classification also includes people who are snarky, sarcastic or cynical. They get satisfaction from a well placed barb. This form of rudeness is often justified as not being able to be suppressed.  

9. Combo Pack – Motivations are tricky things and you may find that your motivations for being rude and a  mix of the preceding motivations.

I think rudeness is something that should be removed from our culture. When you notice yourself being rude to another person, take the time to investigate your own motivations and try to pin down just what is driving you toward the rude behavior. There are always alternative ways to meet your goals that don’t involve alienating other people.

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