Saturday, August 06, 2005

Polite vs. Nice

My mother in law reports that Geeky Boy is being quite polite, which I think means he took my "No, thank you, Gram, I don't want any more" lessons to heart. It also made me think about the whole issue of politeness. Growing up in the South, politeness was valued. Many kids were required to say "Yes, ma'am" and "Yes sir." Really, adding "ma'am" and "sir" to anything was encouraged. My parents didn't exactly require it, but they did encourage us to use "Yes" as opposed to "Yeah" or "Yep." I'm suspicious of discourse requirements. I think it's often used to cover up things. It's like Orwell's "Politics of Language." I think you can be respectful without out having to use specific language. I mean, if kids say "yeah" among themselves, that's the way they say it and it's not exactly disrespectful to say it to adults.

The thing is, I always got the impression that all these requirements were not a respect thing, but meant to make you look "nice." Well, some of the meanest people I know are perfectly polite. Instead of focusing on politeness, we've focused on "niceness" or really "kindness." Having real empathy for people I think naturally leads to being polite. A "how are you" from someone who really empathizes with you has a bigger effect than it does when it comes from someone just "being polite."