How quickly we forget. It seems like only yesterday that our nation was shocked with disbelief when terrorist attacks caused such vicious destruction within our borders. Although there was fear in our hearts that another attack could happen, Americans united in a spirit that brought the nation together. We proved to ourselves that we have common thread and that we can meet on a common ground. We felt the need to share our thoughts with our neighbors seeking comfort.
For awhile people seemed to be more cautious, but they also tended to show more respect. It was as though the entire country had become one brotherhood.
And yet a survey conducted by Public Agenda less than four months after that eventful day shows that we have reverted to our old ways of rude behavior. The study, "Aggravating Circumstances: A Status Report on Rudeness in America," was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The report examines the behavioral attitudes of Americans. Of those interviewed, 74 percent thought that people were more caring and thoughtful toward one another as a result of the terrorist attacks. When that group was asked how long it would last, 46 percent insisted it would be only a few months, and 18 percent felt it was already over.
Some 88 percent considered lack of respect and courtesy to be a serious problem, yet 41 percent indicated that they are part of the problem.
When asked why people are so rude, here are the ways they responded:
Too many parents are failing to teach respect to their kids. (84 percent).
Values and morality are in decline in our society. (62 percent).
Too many negative role models in society teach kids to be disrespectful. (60 percent).
There is a declining sense of community. It's easier to be impolite and disrespectful when people don't know each other. (47 percent).
Rude behavior is so common that people stop being nice and act like everyone else. (41 percent).
These are disturbing facts. If the trend continues, rudeness will be so commonplace that we will no longer trust anyone. Americans are not the force that they once were. Yet we must do our part-even if it is only a small part-to turn the tide.
If we accept politeness as a way of life, perhaps it will rub off on others. We know that when we are polite to someone and offer them a courtesy, it makes us feel good. We feel a sense of accomplishment. We can only hope that the recipient will pass on that courtesy to another. Kindness begets kindness. And eventually that minor fact of kindness will be magnified many times over.
The tragic events of Sept. 11 showed us that we can be polite. The tough assignment will be to maintain that politeness.