Responding to rudeness

Q: I enjoy your column and generally think you give sensible, practical advice, but your answer to the question of how to react to a rude stranger was irresponsibly inadequate. Of course there are minor indignities that we should all be prepared to ignore, whether we’re victims or witnesses. But much of the recent conversation about bullying identifies the enablers who either encourage or won’t disapprove of a bully and thus empower the bully and make the victim feel more isolated. When we witness something wrong, it is our duty as citizens and humans to try to help. That might mean finding a manager to let them know what’s happening. It might mean sympathizing with the victim afterward. It might mean saying, “STOP IT,” if the situation feels threatening. A well placed, “That was rude,” to the offender registers your disapproval. It may not cause a stranger to see the light, but social censure is pretty powerful.

The problem with your answer is that it encourages an eyes-averted “not my problem” response that weakens the fabric of society. I think you should intervene any time you would want someone to help you if the situation were reversed. Please consider acknowledging that rudeness is a problem and that anyone not part of the solution is part of the problem.

D.B. Boston, MA

A. Rudeness, incivility, and bullying are clearly a problem. Bullying is the worst with tragic consequences as we’ve seen in story after story. I appreciate your point of view and agree with most of what you say. Because the column focused on rudeness, not bullying, I stand by my advice: don’t challenge a stranger who is being rude. It would be irresponsible of me to give blanket advice encouraging readers to point out a stranger’s rudeness since there is no way to predict the stranger’s reaction as so clearly pointed out in the L. A. Times story referenced in last week’s column. The fact that someone is behaving rudely in the first place is a clue that he or she doesn’t particularly care about the feelings or opinions of others. If the situation is egregious enough to warrant intervention, get a person in authority involved. Offer comfort to the person who was on the receiving end of the rudeness. Be a good example yourself. These are not only appropriate, but they are also the things a considerate and respectful individual wants to do.

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