February 5, 2010

Will Kids Imitate Adults Behaving Badly?

People who live in a haze of self-importance will do some truly shocking things in public purely out of feeling entitled.  And, as you may suspect if you have read my blog before, I have a story of such a self-important individual.

Unfortunately, the person I observed had a child with them.  That always makes it worse.  Whenever I see adults behaving badly, I glance around for children.  Will seeing adults behave poorly affect them?  Will it make them think being rude is ok?  I think I have an answer.

I stood off to the side at the pharmacy counter; I had had a question and while the staff addressed my concern they asked me to step to one side so the line could keep moving.  Eventually only I was standing at the counter and the attendant had walked away when an elderly gentleman approached; he stopped a few feet back from the register, clearly giving me some space in case I was in line.  Very polite, I thought.

Suddenly, talking loudly, an elderly woman came around the corner with a school-aged girl in tow and stepped right in front of the gentleman.  At that moment the attendant returned and, not knowing what had just happened, began taking care of the woman, who seemed oblivious to her rudeness.

The girl, however, was intensely uncomfortable.  She heard the gentleman's attempt to say, "excuse me" and saw me and the man exchange looks of shock.  Another man, sitting in a chair several feet back, actually laughed out loud at how ridiculous this was.

The girl tugged her grandmother's sleeve, whispering with increasing urgency, "Grandma.  Grandma.  Grandma!"  The rude woman ignored her grandchild until her business at the register was complete, then snapped, "What?"

"Grandma, you stepped in front of that man."

She glanced at him, her face sour, then turned around and began to walk away, calling over her shoulder, "Well, he shouldn't have been standing five feet from the counter."

The gentleman, myself and the man behind us in the chair all looked at each other; then we burst out laughing. What else can you do when faced with such bold rudeness?

But what really stands out to me was that girl's behavior.  She was perhaps ten or eleven years old but, as I commented to the two men, she had far more sense than her grandmother.  Given what I saw, I think we can give kids more credit when we see adults behaving rudely in the future; chances are, they are just as aware and uncomfortable as we are.  And that, in turn, will help them understand why we have rules and manners in society, and how it feels when someone doesn't play fair.

Occasionally witnessing bad behavior won't ruin a child.  In fact, it may make them value good manners even more.

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