When we react with anger to someone else, we’re generally trying to teach them a lesson. A judge once told me that anger is usually the result of either a loss of control or a perceived loss of dignity; I think that he got it right. When we try to teach another person a lesson, we’re trying to show them that they can’t take away our control or dignity and get away with it.

Last year I tried a couple of road-rage cases. What is road rage but an effort to teach the other guy a lesson? Driver A makes a mistake, and driver B feels a loss of control. So Driver B then flips driver A off, and driver A feels a loss of dignity. So Driver A brake-checks driver B, and Driver B feels a loss of both control and dignity. So Driver B runs Driver A off the road, and Driver A feels a loss of control and dignity as well. Soon someone is getting shot on the median and someone is getting charged with murder. These things tend to turn brutally expensive for everyone involved really quickly.

The urge to “teach someone else a lesson,” or to “show them,” or to “teach them manners” is a strong one in our culture. It’s so ingrained that some of us aren’t embarrassed to write that we think there are situations that “call for being a jerk“:

If you cut me off in traffic, then you’ll probably get the finger. If you clearly demonstrate that you do not possess any elevator etiquette, then it will be obvious by the look on my face. That kind of stuff.

(Shawn: take this test!)
I think the world might be a better place if everyone feeling a loss of control or dignity took a deep breath and considered whether the person responsible could be taught to know better, or whether the likely result would be worth the effort.

It’s not my job to teach manners to adults. If you’re over 14 years old and don’t know to say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry,” I’m not going to civilize you. I’m not even going to try. If you push onto the elevator before I get off, I’m not even going to scowl. If you cut me off in traffic, you won’t be seeing the finger. It’ll just waste my time and annoy you. I’m out of the business of teaching grownups lessons.

0 responses to “Manners”

  1. I’m going to assume that I wasn’t just called an asshole.

    As for being passive in the situation, I think I was. I never said anything to him, I never counter-attacked, and I never made a comment to anyone else about the situations. Of course many noticed the behavior.

    I know I’m not going to teach anyone manners, whether they be the basic human kind or the kind required in the courtroom. But, if it gets in the way of my job, I will take them out. I don’t think that’s wrong.

  2. Interesting juxtaposition between:
    (1) I think I was [passive], and,
    (2) If it gets in the way… I will take them out.
    Irony perhaps? It’s undoubtedly lost on this audience. Nice example, though, to your point that you’re not “going to civilize [people].” It is a great example for your readers, though, about the way it’s truly not worth your time to argue with a person who “passively… takes people out” and believes the fault lies completely with the other guy.

    Reminds me of a quote by the great Texas singer-songwriter Charlie Robison, “Don’t know why you gotta be angry all the time”, as well as a story about the OJ trial. It seems the defense team saw that Darden was very angry so they sent F. Lee up to challenge him. They knew Bailey would further piss off Darden and had Bailey say “if you had any balls, you’d have OJ try on the glove.”

    Apparently Marcia Clark was against it, but Darden, acting purely out of anger i suppose, called Bailey’s bluff and played right into his hands.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys.

    Shawn, how’d you score?

    I actually saw a criminal defense lawyer shove a civilian out of an elevator recently. The civilian was trying to get aboard, and there was room for him, but he apparently wasn’t acting decisively enough for the lawyer. So the lawyer shoved him with a hand in the middle of the chest. I’m sure he thought the situation called for being a jerk.


    It sounds like Darden gave up his power to F. Lee, with spectacularly bad results.

    I’m not really talking about being passive here, though it might be perceived by outsiders as passivity. I’m talking about not letting other people’s bad behavior affect my balance unless I absolutely can’t avoid it.

  4. I scored a 5, thank you very much. All though it could be a 4; it was borderline on one of the questions.

    And I don’t push people out of the way on the elevator, but there is definitely elevator etiquette. You can’t tell me there is nothing out there that bothers you, that is your pet peeve. I mean, come on.

  5. One of the problems with this whole blawgversion is that without specific examples, it’s impossible to judge where the lines are drawn and what level of response would happen.

    So, we project our personal experiences onto what each other writes, and we end up talking apples and elevators. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  6. Shawn,

    Sure, things bother me. When it happens, I recognize it and appreciate it. If I sense an imminent threat, I deal with it. If it’s not, I let it go and get on with my life. As a general rule, bad manners and obliviousness don’t create an imminent threat.


    Shawn gave us a couple of good examples: cutting him off in traffic, or ignoring elevator etiquette.

  7. But Shawn didn’t say what he would/should do about either.

    That they piss him off is clear, but they probably annoy you too. So you would shrug it off (as would most of us). That’s what Shawn did as well, though he vents about it afterward.

    But if he was going to do something, what would it be? Mumble “idiot” under his breath or pull out his Glock? All you Texas guys have Glocks, right?

  8. Most of us do, although I have a feeling that the esteemed Mr. Bennett does not.

    What would I do if someone: 1. cut me off in traffic or 2. ignored elevator etiquette? Let’s see.

    Probably depends on my mood. My wife says I’m moody. So, good mood, nothing. Bad mood, probably cuss the driver (of course while in my car, out of earshot of the driver because I’m a wussy) and say something directly to the ass for not learning elevator etiquette. It is VERY important. Unless you only go into one story buildings.

  9. SHG — yes, we have Glocks, but for manners lessons I prefer a Sig.

    Shawn, waitaminute. “If you cut me off in traffic, then you’ll probably get the finger. If you clearly demonstrate that you do not possess any elevator etiquette, then it will be obvious by the look on my face. That kind of stuff.”

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