Our culture seems to be caught up in an epidemic of rudeness: Fights on airplanes, belligerent diners raging at stressed-out servers, school-board meeting attendees outraged over mask mandates, bullying bosses, a quiet comment that escalates into a red-faced, clenched-fist exchange of insults. I’ve been lucky so far, just an observer to the incivility, but the questions keep nagging: What to do about this? How to respond?
Research shows that being on the receiving end of incivility, or even witnessing it, amps us up and makes us want to respond in kind. That might give us a momentary sense of satisfaction – repaying rudeness with harsher rudeness so that we’re not bested in this toxic contest – but that’s like tossing a match in a gas can.
A friend here on the hub, Ashwin Budden, recently tipped me to Hidden Brain, a podcast that explores why we do what we do and probes the hard questions that ride the deeper rhythms of our lives. In a recent episode, How Rude!, behavioral scientist Christine Porath speaks about her research that offers an effective way to keep incivility from hijacking our minds and our behavior. It’s not reactive, but rather preventive.
Instead of waiting to experience rude behavior and then figuring out what to do about it, she suggests that we focus on ourselves and engage in whatever activities help us develop a sense of thriving, of moving forward; activities that build hope, vitality, and resilience. The point is to strengthen in us a kind of immune system, she says, so that we’re far less likely to be triggered when others are uncivil and either respond in kind or simply leave the encounter feeling shaken.
So I’m curious: Have you found effective ways to respond to public incivility and perhaps calm the other person? Do you confine your actions to yourself and employ self-calming techniques? Do you just walk away, or does that simply give license for more bad behavior? What’s our responsibility if our goal is weaving a more life-giving culture?
Thanks in advance for your responses.