I grew up in a small cubicle of a town. Almost everyone there smiles and makes sure to say “please” and “thank you.” In Philadelphia, when I’m walking to my apartment and smile at people, I feel the smile-fearing folk give me that “Are you serious?” look.
When I was younger I was naïve to think that people everywhere were always going to be polite and well-mannered, but I never expected to encounter so many people with a blatant disregard for others. It is a complaint not unfamiliar
for all big cities.
Instead of complaining, I’ve decided to think about the possible explanations for the frequent social carelessness with which cities are often credited. I can’t help but feel like people aren’t as good to each other as they once were.
I enlisted the help of Frank Farley, the former president of the American Psychological Association and current professor in Temple’s psychology studies in education department.
First, I mentioned my upbringing and the varied social dynamics of urban, suburban and rural communities. Farley mentioned “a well-known anonymity in the cities,” which suggests a lesser need to be civil.
Anonymity also becomes an issue with our generation’s increasing use of the Internet.
“A lot of our time is spent not face-to-face with people, and that carries into every day life,” Farley said.
Whether in the city or on the Internet, knowing you will probably never see or speak to someone again may make it easier to ignore your manners. In small towns, rude actions can turn to gossip, so they’re avoided.
Farley also brought up the issue of time pressure. “We are so multitasked,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition for our time. When you multitask, you may not have the time to add the niceties. Then you might continue not doing it and slip into the habit. Any guilt you might have felt gets smaller and smaller.”
While Farley couldn’t say whether or not there is a particular courtesy problem on campus, he did state his opinion on the importance of social decency.
“Without things like manners and courtesy, life becomes a business, just a piece of work. Period,” he said.Through years of studying human behavior, Farley has decided on the most important human motive: generosity. “If we were more giving, we wouldn’t have to think about forgiving,” he said.
If we were just a bit more generous with those little moments
of our time and said “thank you” to the awkward, grinning girl – that’s me – holding the door, then perhaps we and the people with which we interact every day would be just a bit happier, not to mention more inclined to pass those small courtesies on to the next person.
Kathleen Hager can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.