In Charles Dickens’s second novel, Oliver Twist, or, the Parish Boy’s Progress, the orphan Oliver Twist, who was born in a workhouse and sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker, goes up to Mr. Bumble, the poorhouse supervisor, bowl in hand, to ask for seconds of gruel at breakfast. In the book he says, “Please Sir, I want some more.” Many people mistakenly remember this as ‘Sir, more please.’ I’m adding further to the confusion by asking everyone for ‘more PC please.’
Now, some of you are already probably thinking that by ‘PC’ I mean political correctness, and you’re preparing your snarky rejoinders. Political correctness, or PC for short, has become an extremely sensitive topic over the last decade or so, especially here in the United States where it has even become a highly partisan issue, with those for it being classed as liberals—or worse—and those arguing against in as conservatives—or far worse. One thing I have noticed, unfortunately, is that those who argue against political correctness tend to be people who want to be able to insult whomever, whenever, but who tend to be extremely thin skinned when the insulting shoe is on the other foot.
Never you mind all that, though, because that’s not what I mean by PC in this instance. I’m pleading here for more ‘public courtesy,’ which I fear is just as likely to stir controversy.
I have noticed over the past few years—perhaps a decade or more actually—that public courtesy, those polite forms of interaction that I was taught mark members of civilized societies, seems to be on the decline. Not only are people less polite and courteous to each other, but they seem to act out their lack of courtesy even more blatantly.
Here’s an example. I was once driving with my wife and two granddaughters, on our way home after a visit to an ice cream parlor. A car driven by a young man two lanes to the right of the lane in which I was driving, suddenly cut across the two lanes, and swerved in front of me. I tapped my horn to alert him that he almost caused a collision. His reaction? He immediately veered back into his original lane but stuck his left arm out the driver’s side window and gave me the old middle finger sign. He didn’t just do it quickly and pull his arm back inside the car but drove at a high rate of speed for nearly a minute with his middle finger in the air—to make sure I saw it I suppose.
Even had my granddaughters not been in the car I would not have reacted to this display of uncivilized, adolescent behavior with anything but a shrug. I shrugged and rolled my eyes of course. My then eight-year-old granddaughter, quite precocious for her age, looked at this juvenile display with eyes wide. I decided it best not to make too much of it, so I just said, “Some people haven’t been taught good manners,” and let the matter drop.
I wish I could say this was a rare occurrence. It’s not. Over the past decade I have seen or been told of such incidents happening again and again. A friend of my daughter, for example, told her of his stay in an apartment complex in the District of Columbia last year when he’d come east from Arizona to do a temporary job. One day, during the COVID pandemic, he stood in front of the building elevator waiting for it to open. When it did, the only other passenger was a masked figure wearing a dress and high heels. Courteous country boy that he is, he said, “Mornin’, ma’am.” The response was a curt, “Don’t make assumptions about my gender.” To say he was shocked would be an understatement. Sure, everyone has a right to decide how they identify, but people make honest mistakes. It’s not as if he was trying to be insulting. He simply assumed—incorrect apparently–based on what he could see and what it meant in the environment he was accustomed to. The courteous response would have been a calm, “I do not identify as female,” or something along those lines.
If we want to solve many of the problems plaguing our societies today, one of the most critical things we could do is remember that ‘soft words turn away wrath.’ It costs nothing to be courteous and it pays dividends.
Don’t believe me? Try it sometime. – NWI