Thursday, January 6, 2011

Toxic Rudeness

For many years now I, with others, have been alarmed at the level of rudeness that pervades our society. I have joined those who have favored a return to courtesy, decorum, and polite behavior.

If your life is filled with repeated insults, broken appointments, and failures to show respect, you will be traumatized and will suffer the consequences.

Most recently, I discussed the problem in a post entitled, “Frank Rich Misses the ‘50’s.” In it I argued that the 60s counterculture had inaugurated a wave of systematic rudeness that has damaged the American psyche.

I was happy to welcome Frank Rich to the fold and noted, with him, that the last time people truly practiced respect, courtesy, tact, and consideration was the 1950s.

Considering how much the ‘50s were maligned by the Vietnam era counterculture, it was a point well worth emphasizing.

Now, new studies confirm my and Rich’s opinion. It is not good news.

As Douglas Fields reports, recent neuroscientific research has shown that rudeness is a neurotoxin. Submit a developing human being to rudeness and offensive behavior, and you will be damaging its brain. Link here.

In Fields’ words: “A disrespectful, stressful social environment is a neurotoxin for the brain and psyche, and the scars are permanent.”

Given that I wrote about a similar comparison in my book on Saving Face, I was struck by the way Fields compared American culture and a Japanese culture that cares about “face.”

In his words: “The contrast between the brash, comparatively disrespectful behavior of Americans today and the courtesy, formal manners, civil discourse, polite behavior and respect for others regardless of social status that is evident in Japanese society is striking.”

Finally, Fields explains how formal, ritualized behavior reduces social stress and protects us from neurotoxins.

He writes: “As the size of the group increases, so do the number of interactions between individuals, thus raising the level of stress if not controlled by formal, stereotyped behavior, which in human society is called ‘manners.’ The formal ‘Yes, Sir, Yes, Ma'am,’ is not a showy embellishment in the military; strict respect and formal polite discourse are the hub of the wheel in any effective and cohesive social structure. True, many chafe under a system of behavior that is overly rigid, as do many young Japanese, but my point is that these polite and formalized behaviors reduce stress in a stressful situation that arises from being an individual in a complex society. Stress is a neurotoxin, especially during development of a child's brain.”

Point well taken.


The Ghost said...

this is reversal for Frank ... he used to write about how bad the 50's were ...
I wouldn't get too comfortable agreeing with Frank ... he's liable to reverse himself yet again ...

Stuart Schneiderman said...

You're probably right about Frank. Since he did not say that he had reversed himself or that he had been wrong when he did reverse himself, the chances are good that he will revert to form. I think that the likelihood is so high that it is best to seize the moment.

As you say, he used to be among those who were trashing the 50s regularly.

We'll keep an eye on his column to see if he starts backsliding.

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: The 'Toxic' DI


.....would a Marine DI be considered 'toxic'? In a 'theraputic' environment?


[Life's tough. It's tougher when you're stupid. -- John Wayne, as a WWII Marine sergeant]