The older white gentleman!

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I was seated on my behind in a parking lot changing a flat tire on my old pickup truck when an older white gentleman came up out of nowhere. Dressed as I was in tattered jeans, a white tee shirt stained with ketchup and fried chicken grease and a black knit cap, my knee-jerk reaction was a fear that perhaps he thought I was stealing hubcaps. Yikes, were bullets and cops were soon to come my way?

But I was wrong. Boy was I wrong.

“I have a tire inflator that should help,” he offered. He retrieved it, connected it and, viola, within minutes I was on my way home. I couldn’t thank him enough, wanted to give him a big hug but worried that others might think that a mugging was underway.

Now this gentleman’s random act of kindness was so refreshing given that basic niceness seems to have been flushed down the toilet of hate speech, vitriol and garden variety nastiness that’s swept our nation and crippled our discourse over the last few years, 2016 in particular.

Questions.

Which takes me to a series of questions I posed to readers a few years ago, ones that are as relevant today as ever:

Do you share the feeling that plain-old courtesy seems to be slipping away? Do you sense increases in curtness, moodiness and standoffishness? Are you seeing more signs of uncivil behaviors during these difficult times? Are we facing a pandemic of rudeness, or are some folks just overly sensitive?

Inarguably, there’s definitely something amiss here in the way we interact. We can point the finger to fear of change, of demographic shifts, of loss of privilege, of “foreigners,” all exacerbated by the recent contentious presidential election, and aided and abetted by the media, social media in particular where “brave” folks can hurl out their bile without consequences.

But just how widespread is this trend of incivility? Is it on the rise in the workplace, in airport and supermarket lines, in restaurants and at sporting events? At every turn it seems that the decline of civility and simultaneous upticks in disrespect seem to be becoming more of an issue nowadays.

In an article, “Tit For Tat? The Spiraling Effect of Incivilities in the Workplace,” The Academy of Management Review, Lynne Anderson writes: “The business world was thought to be one of the last bastions of civility. However, greater employee diversity, re-engineering, downsizing, budget cuts, pressures for more productivity and autocratic work environments have contributed to an increase in incivilities.” The same can be said about behaviors in public places as well.

Now not to let anyone off the hook, me included, the fact is that sometimes we all revert to behaviors that fall into the realm of incivilities and disrespect. And such behaviors are probably more of an issue during times of uncertainty, these days for example, when people tend to be more on edge. But where do you draw the line between slights, incivility, outright boorishness and sheer jerkiness? Well, civility is not only possible but within relatively easy reach. Here are some possibilities:

  • Exercise patience when you’re put on hold during a call, in a long line while in public or trying to understand someone with a difficult to understand accent.
  • Avoid inflammatory language, especially profanity, and gestures (the middle finger salute)
  • Alert the person sitting behind you on a plane when you’re about to lower your seat.
  • Allow someone to cut in line in front of you in heavy traffic (and when someone lets you in give them a wave of thanks)
  • Sneak a peek at the nametag of someone providing you service and say it before, during and immediately after the interaction.
  • Resist firing off at someone on social media when something is posted that bothers you.
  • Look for opportunities to whoop and holler, to roll over in laughter with someone who doesn’t look, think or believe what you believe. Don’t underestimate the power of laughter.

And don’t forget those proven random acts of civility – like saying “hello,” “thank you,” how’s the family?” and “great job!” (All with a smile) – or just opening the door for or offering your seat to someone.

Oh, yeah, before I forget, be willing to offer a helping hand – or air inflator – when you come across someone changing a flat tire.

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, trainer and story teller. He is currently a senior associate at Diversity Wealth, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronical, The American Diversity Report and New York-based Catalyst. He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com.

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