Stop excusing rude behavior

Elise T. Chisolm

August 04, 1992|By Elise T. Chisolm

Every time I meet young Debbie she seems remote and unfriendly. But mostly she is aloof and rude. She is staying with a friend of mine for two weeks this summer and getting ready to enter a nearby college. She's from Oklahoma. Her mother and father are both lawyers, and I'd met them; nice, out-going, well-mannered folks.

My friend said about Debbie, "Oh, no, she's not rude, she's painfully shy. You have to get to know her," and, of course, "She's a teen-ager still, really."

Well, let me tell you, I may not have time. My friend said that Debbie keeps to herself. Debbie doesn't do any household chores, nor does she make her bed.

"I fix her breakfast and then she's off for the day and into the night," my friend explains in Debbie's defense. "We loan her our car, because we feel she is lonely."

That's it. We are a society of excuses. From a teen-ager to the highest government official, we excuse everyone's behavior. From Richard Nixon to little Debbie, we like to say "It's OK."

Excuses, excuses, excuses. Cop-out!

And it's an old saw of mine that people excuse people who are rude by saying they are just shy or too busy.

We excuse so that the person who is rude or self-centered won't have to account for his own actions, inadequacies, misdeeds.

I watched the other day when a 3-year-old hit his baby brother, and the mother said, "Nelson was just too tired, I think."

I think we blame shyness when it can be insolence, or just lack of respect and consideration for others.

And we seem to get worse as time marches on.

I got in an elevator recently with a woman I had worked with, and I said "Good morning." She said nothing. So OK, she didn't want to talk, but she isn't shy, I've heard her talk to a group of 100 women.

We excuse celebrities too. We treat them as demi-gods.

A long time ago I Interviewed Milton Berle. He was rude, and he was funny, but mostly he was rude. His agent said, "He was overworked and stressed out.".

Standing in a hallway, I had a short interview with one of my favorite authors, John Updike. He had just been on a panel with top writers speaking to a capacity crowd. One-on-one he was rude. His wife said, "He is very shy."

At a recent dinner party a professor of physics got up from the formal dining table before dessert was served and went into the host's den. He lit his pipe and turned on the television. He never said "excuse me" or even "g'by."

I asked my hostess the next day about him, and she said, "He is painfully shy, and he doesn't like a lot of people around him."

Well, then he should have stayed home.

I'm not asking for a new world order of behavior according to Emily Post. But I hate it when we excuse people for their crassness, temper or general indifference.

Debbie, the young girl who is visiting my friend, isn't shy. She had been on the debating team in high school. She is self-engrossed and she will grow up with the same patterns.

I have been asked who are the most courteous celebrities I've interviewed. The answer may surprise you. Vincent Price and Joan Rivers are the two that come to mind.

I met singer Perry Como years ago. He seemed very shy, but he was not rude. There is a big difference, and I wish we could learn not to excuse those who don't deserve to be.

I asked my friend if she has been thanked for the many nice things she does for Debbie.

My friend said, "Her parents sent me some roses. Well, I think she is just too busy to thank me . . ."

Excuses, excuses, excuses.

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