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Friday Afternoon Confessional: Manners

I confess to wondering sometimes whether politeness is more trouble than it’s worth. Take, for example, my wife and I. In our shower, we both have scrubbing implements (we call them scrunchies) hanging on the faucet of the tub. Since there are two things hanging on the faucet, you have a 50/50 chance of your scrubbing device being the one “on top”. Meaning you don’t have to move the other person’s scrubber to get to your own.

In the interest of politeness and consideration, my wife and I both take the time to make sure the other person’s scrubber is the one “on top” after we finish our shower. It dawned on me this week that this effort guarantees that we always have to take the (minimal) trouble to move the other scrubber. If we didn’t take the trouble, we would sometimes not have to move the other scrubber since it sometimes happens that I’ll take a shower twice before my wife takes one or vice versa.

I know this is an excruciatingly mundane subject, but it was an interesting equation to me. Basically, we’ve made the decision that being polite – and in reality, only appearing to reduce effort for the other person – is worth more than either of us actually having to put forth less effort. Also interesting is the fact that bringing up the illogic of certain customs like this almost never goes over well.

The reply is almost always something like, “Look, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it.”
“No, no, I don’t care. I just think it’s interesting.”
“Mm hmm.” (skeptically)

Another area where I wonder if politeness is a net negative is in its absence. What I mean is, there are some things that are so commonplace that “every day” politness gets taken for granted. There is therefore very little on the positive side of the ledger for carrying out these acts. However, when somebody doesn’t conform to these type of acts, it can be very upsetting. If I want to punch you in the face for not holding the door for me when my arms are full, how much goodwill does that cancel out for all the doors held open for people who barely notice? If customs such as these were removed to the point where there was no expectation and no resulting frustration, would we come out ahead overall?

I confess that after observing others’ actions every day, I am in no way suggesting we are polite to a fault as a society. Working in a municipality where city staff are brought in to resolve issues that should never require third party resolution, this is brought into stark relief.

I confess I watched a Louis CK standup concert last night and I am amazed and intimidated by the personal material – personal to people other than himself, as well – he digs up in the interest of his comedy. It’s hilarious (the name of the concert, by the way) and great for us as the audience, but a little off-putting for those of us who try to delve into creative endeavors from time to time. Do we have to bare ourselves and our relationships to the same extent to reach our full potential? If we’re not willing to do so, I guess it says good and bad things about us as people and creators. But to our audience, the only thing that matters is what we’re putting out there. They only see the potentially stunted work; they don’t care about our reasoning for limiting it.


March 16, 2012 - Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional


  1. I think politeness can sometimes become so extreme as to loop around into imposition — the classic example being the asshole who holds the door open for you even though you’re still two miles away.

    I confess that the weather this week has wreaked havoc with my mood. It’s causing nostalgia especially, but not spring-related nostalgia — so I have no idea what’s going on. I confess that I haven’t gotten my accustomed amount of sleep the last two nights, and it’s provided a great excuse not to do any grading, at least in my own mind.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | March 16, 2012

  2. Idea for a phone app: Point the phone at somebody. The app measures the distance to the person and lets you know whether they are close enough to hold the door open. If the person disagrees, just point to the app. “Sorry, it’s science.”

    Comment by mattintoledo | March 16, 2012

  3. I confess that I have a bad habit with doors. If I notice someone approaching a door at a rate that will put them in the door at the same time as I get there, I speed up to beat them to it, then catch myself and awkwardly step aside to either let them pass or hold the door for them.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | March 16, 2012

  4. I confess that I am completely puzzled by the academic dress thread at AUFS. Admittedly, I have little desire to leave Ontario–indeed, to even my leave my house on a day to day basis–and am thus mostly ignorant as to how people dress in other parts of the world, but I am acquainted with a significant number of Ontario universities and very few people–beyond business students and executives–dress as discussed. And, for the most part, when “foreigners” come to our small-minded, backwoods, institutions of slightly higher learning, they tend to look more or less the same as we do. Where are these “fashionable” people coming from!? Who do they think they are!? At least it’s an occasion for a fun game: “business student, executive class, or job interviewee?” as you pass them in our hermitically sealed underground pedestrian passageways. The game usually ends with, “I’d never show up to an interview dressed like that. They’re hiring me (or not) and not my v-neck double-breasted linen cargo man-pris.”

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | March 17, 2012

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