The Washington Times - September 18, 2008, 08:26AM

(first posted on on November 7, 2007)

I  want to live in a country again where some of our lost ancient 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 rude and angry! The polite and civil country that I knew as a child no longer exists.

Could it 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? Have we become so insular because of the amount of time we spend in front of our computers emailing instead of talking, or with an iPod attached to our ears? Oh, and let’s not forget telecommuting and teleconferencing.

All of these great advancements are supposed to make our lives easier. It seems to me that an easier life should make us happier. And that happiness should be manifested in the form of civility toward our neighbors and the rest of the world. But that’s not the case.

The other day I took the subway to downtown Washington. When I exited at Metro Center, which is the major station on the system, I felt like an NFL running back trying to punch the ball through a tough defensive line. I was rudely and roughly bumped into at least five times that I remember, and my freshly polished shoes were stepped on more times than I could count while waiting on a crowded platform for a train. No one said “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me.” So I started getting angry. 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.

So what do you think happened next? I became one of the rude and angry people. I admit that for a minute I allowed the rudeness of others to alter my normal respectful and polite manner, which was evident when I went into a bookstore to buy a magazine. When I got the magazine I wanted from a rack in the back of the store, I proceeded to walk to the cashier. On my way to 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.

Now I have to tell you that I felt foolish, because it was clear at that point that I had let some rude, insular commuters alter my standard of behavior. Over the years I have done a lot of internal work on myself. You see, I used to be the type of guy who would let every little rude thing someone said or did grow way beyond its dimensions and basically ruin my day from that point on. Looking back, I cannot understand how I gave people and events that type of power and control over my life. And here I was, reverting back to a familiar negative pattern. So, thanks to my friend with the British accent, I did not. Please know that I really do thank him, because I was well on my way to a very negative state.

We are an angry and hostile country that is addicted to negativity and incivility. Yes, this fast-paced, digitized, noise-polluted, demanding world keeps us on the edge. We need to look inward and to the divine for help with this.

So today I am pledging to become an agent of civility, and I am going to attempt to help resurrect some of those lost American traditions like smiling at people and extending a heartfelt “Good morning” or “Hello.” I am even going to ask our rude insular fellow citizens “Is everything all right?” when they bump into me or step on my shoes - except perhaps those who may be dressed in biker and gangsta attire. Please join me in my attempt to resurrect civility and do the same in your community. Let’s call ourselves the Polite Patrol, and our job is to make our country more polite and friendly.

I firmly believe that we can move America toward a more polite and civil society. But we have to work on ourselves first and not allow the anger and rudeness of others to alter our more civil standard of behavior. So, my fellow Polite Patrollers, we must work on ourselves first and make sure we are game for the task. We can do it. Henry David Thoreau said, “When we bring what is within out to the world, miracles happen.”


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