Most of us go through life trying to be generally cool to our fellow humans. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings or ruin their day. We want to be nice people.
Most of us have probably also had our day ruined by someone who did didn’t even realize they’d done something wrong.
We’ve gotten comfortable. We’re a little bit oblivious and a little bit apathetic. And so we’re rude when we don’t mean to be.
I’ve done all of the things below at one time or another and I’ve been on the receiving end of them as well. So let’s unpack some of them and agree that we’re all going to knock it the eff off, shall we?
We don’t say please and thank you all the time.
Etiquette 101 obviously dictates that you say “please” when asking someone for something and “thank you” when they’ve done something for you. I’m pretty decent at this when dealing with strangers. “Could I please have a small java chip frappucino?” or “Could you tell me what time you close, please?” and following up with a friendly “Thank you!”
But where this all falls apart is when talking to people we know well – our friends, family and coworkers. Because we know them, right? They know we’re appreciative, so we don’t need to say all the pleasantries, right?
So let’s make an effort to say the pleases and thank yous all the time, even when we don’t think it’s necessary, especially with the people who matter the most. Even if you’re just asking your boyfriend for the remote, remember to punctuate those things with a please and a thank you. Because we’re not dicks.
We don’t offer to lend a hand when we could.
We’ve become a very “Mind Your Own Business” society, don’t you think? I’ll hold the door for someone. I’ve helped a little old lady put groceries in her car. But when we see someone who is able bodied and struggling with something, and especially when they’re close to our own age, we tend to assume that they’re fine and they’ll work it out on their own.
I think this is equal parts not wanting to be perceived as a weirdo and concern for our own safety. Certainly, I wouldn’t suggest you roll up unannounced on a woman alone in a dark parking lot, pick up a hitchhiker if you’re not normally inclined to do so or just pitch in and do something for someone if you’re not sure that they actually want your help.
What we can do is stand a respectful, safe distance away and make a polite offer. “Would you like me to help you reach that?” or “Can I help you carry those?” is perfectly fine, and if they decline, you just tell them to have a great day and move on, knowing you’ve done your duty as a considerate person.
We don’t keep track of dates.
Full disclosure: I don’t remember most of my friends’ and family members’ birthdays and I definitely don’t remember their anniversaries. If Facebook doesn’t notify me that they’re coming up, I would miss them entirely without some sort of system in place.
Part of being a grownup is keeping a calendar. I like Google Calendar, because I can set a date to repeat every year and to email me a reminder a few days in advance so I remember to pick up a card or plan to call. If you prefer the old fashioned pen and paper datebook, that’s ok as long as you’re diligent about keeping it updated.
But I don’t know their birthdays! No excuse, my friend. Someone has all that info (your Mom, maybe?) and you need to make the effort to get it from them.
We don’t give people our full attention.
I’m glued to my iPhone a lot. A lot. It’s like this new normal that we’re not fully used to, and so there is no social code of etiquette that’s been ingrained in us since childhood. We’re all carrying handheld fun machines and we don’t know when to put them down.
Put your f’ing phone down.
If you’re out with friends, with family or at some other social function, the only time you should have a phone in your hand is if you’re communicating with someone involved with that function (like giving your friend directions or fielding a call from someone who is running late) or if it’s an absolute emergency. If you’re expecting a call that you’re going to have to take, just let everyone know up front. “I’m expecting a call from work, so I may have to step out at some point” and when that call comes, step out to take the call.
Likewise, if you’re futzing with your phone, as I am prone to when I have nothing else to do with my hands, and someone begins speaking to you, put it down and give them your full attention.
We don’t edit ourselves in public.
More full disclosure: I swear a lot. I mean, a lot. Like a sailor. What don’t I do? I don’t swear in public places, at work, in front of people’s kids or at my grandma. Because that’s just gross and incredibly disrespectful. Potty mouth in front of your friends in a bar is one thing. Potty mouth in front of your friends’ moms is another, completely not OK thing.
Also, most people don’t really want to listen to your private business. The lady behind you in line at the grocery store probably doesn’t want to hear about the fight you had with your sister or your shitty boss. There’s a time and a place for everything.
We get all up in people’s space uninvited.
You do not put your hands on people without being invited, you do not rub the pregnant woman’s belly, grab someone’s arm to get their attention or pat someone else’s kid on the head unless you know them and are absolutely positive that your contact is invited. At best, you’re violating someone’s personal space and at worst you are causing grave offense. Just don’t.
Also: Don’t crowd people in the checkout line, hog the armrests, take up a whole seat with your feet or your bag or stand around where people are walking and refuse to move. Look around. Be aware of the space around you and the people who may be trying to use it. You are one person and you are entitled to occupy the space of one person, your space and no one else’s.
We say something rude and don’t address that we’ve done it.
So your friend just lost her job and you’re trying to be supportive and say something to make her feel better. Because you’re an awesome friend! But what comes out of your mouth is something like “You’re better off. It wasn’t a very good job anyway.” Realizing you’ve just insulted not only her career choice, but possibly her ability to score a “good” job, you just keep rolling and hope she wasn’t too offended. Failsauce.
Let’s address the fact that we just put our foot in our mouth. It shows that we’re self-aware, we realize we said something potentially hurtful and we’re not assholes. Own the mistake.
Super Related: How to Apologize When You’ve Done a Sh*tty Thing
A good follow up to the above would have been “I’m sorry, that came out sounding really rude. What I meant was that I know you weren’t crazy about that job. I’m still really sorry that this happened to you.” Acknowledge that you said a stupid thing, correct the stupid thing, express support. Winning.