“That is not polite!” Not sure how many times I heard my mother say those words as I was growing up—but it was a lot. I accounted for most of those utterances, but also my brother, neighborhood kids and the world in general had a few dressing downs.
What does it actually mean to be polite?
- showing good manners toward others, as in behavior, speech, etc.; courteous; civil: a polite reply.
- refined or cultured: polite society.
- of a refined or elegant kind: polite learning.
Sounds like a good thing—being polite. Have mothers stopped telling their children to be polite? Maybe we stopped teaching what it means to be polite? Something has happened. Maybe as a society we have decided that being polite is a sign of weakness. Or maybe we just don’t care anymore? Something has happened, all right; because being polite is no longer the mother standard it used to be.
Of course all of this gets confused with political correctness—which seems to be the same as being polite but with a negative label. In one form political correctness seems to be limiting the words that can be used to describe people. Usually offensive words.
Marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving especially ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ecology: The actor’s comment about unattractive women was not politically correct. The CEO feels that people who care about being politically correct are overly sensitive. Abbreviations: PC, P.C.
Or from Wikipedia:
The term political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated PC) is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. Since the late 1980s, the term has come to refer to a preference for inclusive language and avoiding language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people considered disadvantaged or discriminated against, especially groups defined by sex or race.
I’m sure my mother was not overly concerned with group identities being infringed with marginalizing words; but I’m also really sure she understood the impact of uncivil, hurtful words and knew they were not polite.
I use words to tell stories. Many of my characters would not be considered polite by my mother. Actually she would be upset that I know some of those words and more than likely blame the whole vulgar words usage on Johnny who lived down the street and was known not to be a polite child. He had obviously been a bad influence on me when she was not watching. If she could have, she might even call Johnny’s mom.
Writing is about words. While many readers think there are bad words and good words; I don’t. Words are just a way to describe something. If the word is vulgar, maybe the use of that word is intended to convey ugly emotion or anger–something vulgar. The correct word used to fit the right time and place.
What troubles me is someone using words to harm people. Name calling was forbidden on the elementary school playground for a very good reason; words can be cruel. How we got to a place where being a name caller, using hurtful language is okay for so many people who lead our society, is just bizarre.
Once again my mother: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Of course this is not original with my mom; but she believed it. Now on occasion I did hear her pass along some gossip about some of the ladies at the church or in her garden club. It’s hard being perfect 24/7.
Maybe it was just easier in the past to be polite? No internet, no Facebook, no nasty tweets. It’s hard to maintain the same venom in a long-hand written letter on scented paper. Also a key factor is that much of our ugliness today is directed at a faceless, nameless audience. Anonymous postings aimed at the dumb, stupid, idiotic people who deserve to be hated.
My mother lived to be over a hundred years old. She came from a time that was very different. She left a world that had become richer and full of amazing things; but a world that was much less polite. Being polite might be a sign of weakness to some, I think it is really a sign of great strength. Shouting vulgarities may attract attention but it is not an indication of a good, thoughtful person. Moms do know best.