August 08, 2012 - A little civility goes a long, long way.
Being polite is a standby of society that seems to lose ground with every passing year, giving out to the torrent of spoiled, self-centered banter of the people on such reality shows as Jersey Shore or (90's throwback!) The Real World. Selflessness is a word that holds less and less meaning in a world where Ayn Rand and Donald Trump propose that being greedy is ok, leading to politicians like Ron Paul supposedly "telling it like it is."
Fancy verbiage and pop culture references aside, I've noticed a sharp decrease in common courtesy as of late. It seems people everywhere will treat you as they would a dog unless they know you or are professionally obligated to treat you better than pond scum. The phrase "if you can't beat them, join them" lurks ever at the back of my head, but I fend it off to the best of my ability, if for no other reason than I am in the business of communicating.
Communication is easier in pleasant company.
I thought for a while that politeness was on a decline and I would simply have to deal with it. After all, being polite to someone who has no regard for you will not make that person more polite - right?
Well at the very least it's not entirely true, as I learned late last month when I contacted someone who had criticized our paper. I take pride in my product and personally contact most who have a legitimate gripe about its quality. There will always be knuckleheads who write to say an article was bias or that I'm in league with a politician, but every so often a critique makes me feel badly - as was the case with this person.
I genuinely felt bad that I had missed out on the opportunity to make the paper better for them.
I contacted them and apologized. I followed with an explanation on why the problem may have occurred and offered solutions for future incidents that both of us might employ. What followed surprised me and led to a conversation that I'd prefer to forget.
A venom laced reply from someone related to the original person followed and then another using more colorful language. I admit I was taken aback. I had attempted to open a line of dialogue to apologize and remedy the situation. Instead I was greeted with accusations and assertions of bias.
I admit, I lost my cool a bit. The second response was civil and PG but the tone of the letter betrayed some of my hostility. I hit send and instantly regretted it - I am a firm believer that hate begets hate and a response such as mine would only exacerbate the argument.
The next morning, a new message was in the inbox. I dreaded clicking it and resolved to try and calm the matter. The first few messages were indeed reciprocal, but the final one surprised me again - it was the original writer responding with the words I intended to respond with.
The message expressed regret at the devolving situation but stood firm with the original message. I appreciated this immensely and responded once more thanking them for writing. We moved forward from the issue and I was happy to make the complaints known to the readers.
When I am wrong I am obliged to admit it. It's only fair.
The point is poison was foaming at the mouths of everyone involved - I was ready for this issue to be completely blown out of proportion and continue for weeks. Instead the kind words and calming message of the original writer blew all verbal ill will away.
So maybe it's not that rudeness has conquered politeness so much as people forget to be polite and give into their bad feelings. One kind message was enough to kill a seething, growing hatred and I believe this can be replicated.
So Orion, remember to hold a door open, give up your seat or ask someone about their day - it makes a world of difference.
P.S. - To the people referred to in this column, I reiterate I am sorry about the original issue. I will strive to resolve future problems as they arise. Thanks again for writing.