The Washington Times - May 11, 2009, 07:55AM

I am concerned about how more on edge people seem these days. There are several factors that I think have contributed to this. We have a troubled economy and two wars that have all of us a little fearful and anxious. I think many of us allow this fear and anxiety to spillover into our daily interactions in the form of rudeness and even incivility.  This is understandable and something we have to work through as a society.

But, we have to admit that some people are just plain rude by nature and others are so engrossed by the inner workings of their own little worlds that they are not mindful of what is going on around them. Could it also be that this fast-paced, digitized, noise-polluted and demanding world we live in has altered our sense of how we should relate and interact?

Whenever I am walking through one of the metro stations during rush hour, I am always amazed at how rude and insular people can be.  Sometimes I feel like an NFL running back trying to punch the ball through a defensive line.  My fellow commuters rudely push and bump into me. Some even step on my freshly polished shoes and only a very few say,  “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me.” It seems that many of them are totally unaware of what is going on around them or just don’t care. This lack of mindfulness usually puts me on edge. Let me offer and example.

On morning while commuting on metro, I allowed the rudeness of others to alter my normal respectful and polite manner. After being bumped and pushed many times in Metro Center (The main station on the metro rail system). I went into a bookstore to buy a magazine and proceeded to walk down an aisle towards the cashier. There was this rather large man blocking the aisle and talking on his cell phone (we can talk about cell phone etiquette in another column). I said “Excuse me” to him three times in a loud enough voice for him to hear me. So I pushed by him with enough force to move him aside. After I pushed him aside, he said in a very polite British accent with a smile (which is just what you want to hear when you are being a jerk), “Sir, is everything all right?” I turned around and told him that I said, “Excuse me” three times and felt that he was ignoring me. He apologized and told me that he was sorry and had not heard me. Then he smiled at me and proceeded with his call.

This encounter made me realize that I had become one of the on-edge and rude commuters of the Washington rush hours. Yes, me - the guy who does T’ai Chi and meditates, and tells people not to be bothered by the negativity around them. Did I mention I wrote a book on this stuff? Maybe I should read it. It also made me realize that if we allow the rudeness of others to alter our normal civil comportment, it can have a domino effect.

You know, I want to live in a country again where some of our lost traditions and practices are resurrected. The traditions that I am talking about are simple things like saying “Good morning” with a heartfelt smile and meaning it. Or, how about “Excuse me” when you bump into someone or step on their shoe accidentally in an elevator or subway. Yes, I am saying that the majority of Americans are on edge, rude and angry! The polite and civil country that I once knew no longer exists.

I believe that something should be done to bring awareness to this behavior. Maybe President Obama could appoint a Secretary of Civility. Since that is not likely, I have a proposal. Tomorrow, when you go to work, I want you to pick three strangers and engage them with a simple polite or kind word. Let’s try to target some of the more rude or insular folks we encounter in our neighborhoods, at work or commuting. It’s a small thing to do. But we have to do something to combat this ever-increasing rudeness many of us encounter in our travels each day.

On a larger scale, maybe we should even consider having a “Regional Polite Day” where we try to bring awareness to this issue and the impact it has on our community.  Perhaps we should ask the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to consider this? I think I am going to ask my DC City Council Representatives. What do you think? 

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