Politeness is ruining my life. As in, I can’t stop being polite and then regretting having such impeccable manners. Damn my good upbringing! My brain has been programmed to extend courteousness even to those who are non deserving or none the wiser.
I realized how this has been playing out a few months back. I was flying to Tampa for my annual girls beach weekend, and as I was deplaning, I heard one flight attendant say to the other, “This one should be fun. We have a bunch of wheelchairs, three cats, and an emotional assist.” Are you kidding me? I thought. I live for this kind of shit. Now that I had intel about the 8-piece bucket of crazypants that was hopping on this next flight, I practically sprinted down that long, hot tunnel thing that connects planes to the boarding gates.
I made a silent wish that I would see a raggedy group of humans staring off into space as they rhythmically petted their emotional support animals. As I emerged from the stale air of the weird airplane hallway, the scene did not disappoint. Immediately the wheelchairs caught my eye — there were no fewer than 12 wheelchairs, lined up two by two, in the pre-board area. In them sat the 12 oldest people in America. Where could they all be going¹? Did this plane pass into the afterlife as its final destination? Surely half of this tribe would be dead before touchdown.
Take a picture, an inner voice whispered, this is hilarious. Maybe you’re not the type of person who finds a smartphone photo of a group of centenarians enjoying some of their last breaths in the pre-board line of an airport comedic gold, but we’ll never know for sure, because I didn’t listen to that wise inner voice. No picture was snapped, no evidence collected, because I am a polite.
I can hear you you judging me through the interwebs. “But it IS rude to take a picture of strangers just to laugh at their expense,” you’re insisting to whatever device you’re reading this on. Fair enough. It wouldn’t be the most respectful thing I’ve ever done, but what’s the worst that could happen? Someone sees me and says “How rude,” a la Stephanie Tanner circa 1991? Then moves on with their day and forgets about the whole event before cocktail hour? I wouldn’t have tried to cyberbully any of those seniors; just shown the picture to my friends or maybe posted it to social media after using a photo editing tool to blur their faces. It’s all in good fun. . . until it’s not.
The biggest offense that involuntary politeness imposes is its hindrance of being rude when appropriate. Like recently, when I ran into a bad bad man. Actually, I had been hoping to one day cross paths with this character, because I was planning on being rude. I envisioned a righteous version of myself giving him a verbal smackdown until he walked away contemplating being a better man. Then my chance came: I was making my way through a crowded room when I turned and unexpectedly met his eyes. Frozen by the shock of it, I just kinda stared until he said, “Hey Autumn.” Feeling the adrenalin rise in my body, I said, “Don’t you dare speak to me! You’re behavior is unacceptable.” Well, that’s what I said to myself hours later when I had time to craft a kickass comeback. Sadly, when he spoke to me I mumbled out a low, “Hi,” void of emotion but still too damn nice. My programming kicked in before I could stop it.
I was furious with myself. Not because I had blown my chance to not let him get away with acting normal, but because I am so conditioned to consider someone else’s feelings before my own. Standing on its own, this is a good quality. But in the context of not standing up to bad people it straight up sucks.
I wish this realization was more about not tolerating abusers and how if we are all consistently intolerable of their behavior they will start to change their ways. And that’s part of it. It infuriates me that he can walk among us and no one points at him and yells “Abuser.” That should happen to him everywhere he goes. But the truth is, this lesson is more about me; about how I move through the world being pleasant whether I feel like it or not. Culture tends to shun and shame those that go against the grain — especially women. We’re expected to stay in a square of congeniality and if we so much as dip our toe across the line the backlash begins. Bitch. Crazy Lady. Trouble Maker.
You know what? I consider it an honor to be all these things. Politeness can suck it. What good are manners if it’s just an automated response your brain sends out and your mouth complies with? Better to go against the grain and feel satisfied than err on the side of courteous and regret it.
I raise my glass to all the Bitches, the Crazy Ladies, and the Trouble Makers; I’ll join you on the outskirts of the congeniality square. And the next time I see a pre-board line bursting with wheelchairs, you’d better believe I’m getting a picture.
It was Connecticut. Their flight was going to Newport.