405. Rudeness

People have a sometimes annoying tendency to consider their own needs and wants higher priorities than the needs and wants of others. The reason that can be so annoying is that we other people have our own needs and priorities, or, in our finest moments, we think about the interests of still other people, or other creatures.
When we’re not annoyed by the tendency, we call it “assertiveness.” Many of us work hard to get ourselves to learn to assert our interests effectively. And if we do learn to do so, we stand a better chance of having our lives work well. Incidentally, people whose lives are working well often tend to be likeable,
generous people. We may recognize their assertiveness, but we tend not to say bad things about it.
But sometimes we do get annoyed. If an adult is assertive in a way that is annoying, we may call that assertiveness “brash,” “cantankerous,” or any of a host of unflattering adjectives. Of course, it’s a matter of personal taste; what bothers one person may charm another. But there are some people whose focus on their own priorities charms few; they aren’t popular, but popularity may or may not be one of their priorities.
If adults want to be self-centered more than they want to be liked, they’re free to follow their bliss. What they say, how they say it, and what they do reflect their dedication to self, and if you don’t like it, you can take your business elsewhere.
But children, who don’t have as much power as adults, have to be more careful. If a child comes across as “inappropriately” assertive, the child is apt to be called “rude,” and scolded and/or punished. We don’t tell adults to go to their rooms until they can learn to speak more politely (although we may be tempted), but children often face that and other attempts to alter their styles.
As a parent and teacher, I’ve sometimes been criticized for what I let children “get away with” saying or doing. But I really think it’s a matter of personal style. I like to hear children asserting themselves; I usually don’t consider such self-assertion “rude.” Once, I was supervising a field trip to the tide pools in Nahant. It was a very hot day, and the tide pool creatures had mostly opted to stay in the ocean. I heard a child complain to a teacher, “It’s too hot! I want to go back to school!” The teacher responded, “That was inappropriate!” Funny, but I had been thinking the same “inappropriate” thought.
I do want to help children learn effective ways to communicate their own priorities, and I do want to help them learn to think about other people’s. But I’m less likely than some adults to think of a child as “rude.” Children are trying to figure out how to get along and get by. If some of their efforts bother us, I think we owe it to them to express our annoyance. But not rudely.

Comments are closed.