Do you remember the tagline to “The Real World” - what happens when we stop being polite and start being real? Of course the Real World was anything but real. It was what happens when a bunch of narcissists get together on camera. It was for entertainment purposes.

The fact is that we spend most of our time being polite. We maintain friendships we don’t really care about because it’s the polite thing to do. We make small talk with people we don’t even know because it’s polite. We put up with assholes in public because it’s polite. We don’t dress the way we really want to because we have to be polite. We both buy and accept terrible gifts because it’s polite.

Politeness is the difference between asking for what you really want and dropping hints to have what you want offered to you.

There’s a Calvin and Hobbes where Calvin tells his mom to give him the whole piece of pie and to not split it up because he wants it all. His mother counters with “that’s not polite” and Calvin returns with “So the real message be dishonest?”

Honesty and politeness are antonyms. You can either be honest or you can be polite. While most people will tell you to be honest, they would really prefer that you’re polite.

How many relationships have I maintained based on the fact that it would be rude to discontinue them? There are situations where I will just walk away from talking to somebody while in a group because I feel uncomfortable speaking to them. I won’t even use a polite send-off, I’ll just be like “Okay…” and walk away.

Makes you wonder whether or not nice people are really that nice or they’re just incredibly polite.

Politeness has caused me to do things that wouldn’t have normally done. There are plenty of social engagements that I’ve been invited to where my honest reply would be “sounds awful”, but my actual reply is “sounds great!” But in the end, I’m glad I maintained that politeness because I actually enjoyed my time.

I remember one time where I was called out being rude while at the same time I was trying to be polite. When I was a child, my grandfather asked me if I wanted to see a picture of him when he was younger. Having no desire to look at the picture I replied, “No, thank you.” See? Polite. But in fact, my mother pointed out to me that that was actually rude. She told me that even though I didn’t really want to look at the old pictures, Grandpa asked me because he wanted to show me. So the polite thing would be to accept his offer.

Accepting offers is a tricky subject of being polite. I feel most people deny offers believing that to be polite when in fact I feel accepting the offer is polite. For example, if you go to somebody’s house and they offer you something to eat or drink, I think it’s actually polite to accept the offer. To mean, this is a signal of trust. I trust you to give me something that won’t kill me. I accept your food/beverage that is foreign to me. I’m willing to drink of the glass that I have no guarantee was even washed. See? If you deny the offer, then it’s like “I’m not drinking your funky water.”

This becomes increasingly more complicated when the offer is to pay for something. When purchasing an item for someone the polite thing for the person being treated is to offer to pay. This sends the signal that this person doesn’t want to be treated without having the opportunity to reciprocate the generosity. However, should the person treating accept the payment then that sends the signal of “damn right you need to pay up. this shit’s expensive and I know you have money.” And if the person treating rejects the offer of payment the opposite message is sent - “You think I can’t afford this? I have money! You’re the poor one!”

So you can see how people might get into an argument over picking up the check. There’s no clear line for politeness. Even if the check is split there’s a feeling that someone is being rude.

I like to split the check up front. That way I can enjoy the meal without thinking about who has to pay for this shit.

Politeness in relationships, whether platonic or carnal, is tough. Feelings are on the line.

But that’s about it. I think politeness is maintained because we want people to be polite to us. Only a truly conceited asshole who believes that everything they do is awesome can be completely honest with people. We’re not honest with people because we don’t want them to be honest with us. We don’t call out people’s bullshit because we don’t want them calling bullshit on us. We treat others the way we want to be treated which means when somebody is being stupid we treat them like they haven’t done anything wrong. Which means everyone will continue being stupid.

We would be real. But that would hurt our feelings. 

Published by Jessica Sinclair