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Creating the State of Our Union: Out With Rudeness, In With Kindness

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot. Robert A. Heinlein, author

Yesterday my husband, John, went to the post office. A hooded woman in sunglasses and a mask was giving a new postal clerk a hard time.

“Can’t you do anything right?” the rude customer huffed…along with several other nasty remarks.

The clerk continued to try to solve the customer’s problem. Called another clerk in to help others.

John told others to go ahead of him that he was in no hurry.

The truth was John had a job. He stood behind the rude woman giving the clerk looks of compassion and thumbs up to encourage her.

The woman calmed down. Left.

John comforted the new clerk. Life went on in Cashmere.

Life does not always go on, however, when rudeness occurs. Rudeness can cause all sorts of serious problems including death.

We can all be rude. I know I can.

It’s usually because I think someone was rude to me. I reciprocate. That’s one way the whole rudeness cycle keeps going.

Like the flu, emotions and behaviors are contagious. As human beings, we can act either with kindness or rudeness. Each has consequences.

Some of the most impactful research on the harm of rudeness and incivility, perhaps not surprisingly (most of us around the world believe that rudeness is increasing), started coming out in the last twelve years or so .

What’s the impact?

Well, as we might imagine, rudeness hurts people emotionally, psychologically, and now we know also physically. But the kicker came when researchers started reporting that people could not think well or perform optimally after encountering rudeness aimed at them OR even witnessing it OR even reading rude words.

A consultant to medical teams, Dr. Chris Turner ( shares a powerful TED talk which describes the situation in which plain little ole incivility, the stuff we may accept as common and innocuous, can actually kill people (especially in medical situations). He points out that our normal bandwidth gets severely narrowed after rude encounters. Worst of all we don’t realize what’s going on.

Christine Porath, a consultant, researcher, and author works to help people understand why being respectful and civil is good for business. She recounts a situation in which she personally witnessed the effects of stress. Of being called an idiot, being ignored, not being listened to, feeling unnoticed and unappreciated, which had put her father in the hospital.

Porath wonders (as I do) why we are being so much more rude to each other these days.

According to Porath it’s about being stressed ourselves, being unaware of how we are acting, and also about having wrong-headed ideas about jerks getting ahead. We see people like Steve Jobs and think if I were just more rude, maybe I’d be a better leader for example.

Uh, no. The research coming from various sources including the Center for Creative Leadership shows that the number one characteristic associated with a leader’s failure is an insensitive, abrasive, arrogant style.

What people most want from their boss according to studies is…RESPECT. We look for leaders we trust and we judge whether we can trust them by whether we find them to be warm and competent – friendly and smart.

And we know the effects of kindness - moral uplift, high performance, satisfaction and well-being, health and happiness.

People like Chris Turner and Christine Porath have gotten the ear of some big names. Those big names have made some big business turnarounds when they turn rude cultures into kind cultures.

They do that by saying stuff like “around here we’re aiming for high standards AND civility.” Some even institute informal policies like…if you’re ten feet away from someone, make eye contact. If you’re five feet away, say hello. (Yes, it seems we have to be that specific).

There's a difference in expressing our opinion and being rude. Disagreement can exist and negative feedback can be given with civility.

Turner calls his audience to action by ending his TED talk with a story of how we changed our behavior from encouraging smoking to encouraging nonsmoking when we realized the damage smoking was doing. He urges his medical audiences to do the same with rudeness.

What am I going to do? For one thing I’m going to take a lesson from my husband, John.

Set the tone for kindness where I can. Maybe let others who seem in a hurry go ahead of me at times. Encourage others who stop the cycle of rudeness and carry on like the postal clerk.

Second, I can stop being the instigator and spreader of rudeness myself. Notice if I am triggered by others’ rudeness and take a breath, remember my intention.

Third, think about the power I have as one individual to make a difference even with a small act. One person, really?

Researchers are telling us it’s true. Remember emotions and actions are super contagious (and can linger for a long time). I can be intentional about noticing my mood and working to get myself in a good place before interacting with others. I can start small. Just with a smile for example.

Recently someone (the East Wenatchee mayor) who is connected with an entire North Central Washington movement toward building a kind culture throughout the valley shared a lovely little video. It’s a recitation of poem, Smile, written by a British poet, “Spike” Milligan Most Americans don’t know Spike but he was considered a British treasure. I’m printing out a copy of his poem and hanging it by my computer.

And I can continue to hang out with people who pump up my best intentions like the Kindness Counts folks who are working hard to spread kindness - creating banners, standing on street corners, creating social media campaigns to remind folks to "Bee Kind (not just a play on words, but also a salute to the highly regarded bee - remember this is orchard country. The initiative goes "live" on February 17th). Stories of people being kind are also being captured. It's a big deal.

Tonight many will be listening to the State of the Union address. No matter what I see and hear from the lawgivers, the executors, the interpreters, I'm going to remind myself that I have a job to do this year.

I have a big part to play, all of us do, in making a true union, a vibrant union, of the people, by the people, for the people... we can stop the spread of rudeness and bring back civility and kindness - the seeds of a flourishing culture. It can start from the ground up.

How might we journey together to the Good Life by curbing our rudeness and promoting our kindness?

(What are your stories around rudeness and how did you set the tone for kindness? I'd love to hear, love, June)

Dr, Chris Turner TED talk - When Rudeness Turns Deadly

Christine Porath Why Being Respectful To Your Co-workers Is Good for Business

Best known researcher in rudeness Dr. Trevor Foulk interviewed. Why Does Rudeness Bother Us


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