Tough Skin and a Soft Heart?

My sister stopped at my place after work yesterday. She was a bit upset and needed to talk.

At work, she was getting a container of laundry detergent to fill an order. A couple was standing talking a little in front of the display. They weren’t really in her way, and she just reached around and took a container of laundry detergent. The husband said, “Excuse me.”

She said, “Sorry.”

The woman said something to her.

She said,”Sorry.”

The woman said something further to her.

She said, “Sorry,” again.

The woman said something more.

She said, “Sorry.” (I’m thinking to myself did she seriously just say sorry to them four times just for reaching around them?).

Then the woman said, “You’re awfully rude for someone who works here.”

Another sorry.

“Just don’t let it happen again. Other people might not be as nice as we’ve been.” (Really? She thought she was nice?).

My sister walked away, and after a couple of minutes started crying. She says to me that if at over 30 she hasn’t learned good manners and people still think she’s rude, is she ever going to. She says, her whole life she’s always tried to be polite, and no one has ever thought she was polite. People always say she’s rude.

This is interesting to me, our divergent experiences, because my sister really does try, and I don’t try to be rude, but she’s probably more polite and considerate (seriously I’ve never met anyone who worried more about how other people felt and what they would think of her), and I don’t really recall people telling me I’m rude. Also, so far as life goals, I never really worried about people thinking I’m polite; my goals were to live with honesty and integrity and be a good person.

My sister and my aunt were nervous about ever traveling to Bangladesh because they worried they would be ignorant of some point of etiquette and accidentally offend someone. I can’t say I ever worried about that. It probably is a valid worry. It seems, however, that we can unintentionally offend even in our own culture (I’ll have to do a post sometime on why I think I might have Asperger’s).

My sister really thought the whole thing out. She didn’t say excuse me because it makes people feel as though they are in your way or you have annoyed them in some way (I know it makes me feel that way), and they weren’t in her way. Also many people use excuse me in a rude way to show that they are annoyed with you or they feel you have done something wrong. Her logic makes sense to me; I understand where she’s coming from.

To me etiquette is kind of hogwash. That isn’t really what good manners are. To me, good manners is kindness, plain and simple. It’s about real consideration for other people, how you treat people, how you make them feel. Intentionally trying to make others feel low and bad about their shortcomings, there’s nothing polite about that. So who was the rude one here?

She has a lot more forbearance than I do. I’m afraid I would have lost my temper. I’m sure (if I was their employee) that the store would not like me to say what I would like to say to these people even if I’m right (and no I wouldn’t have spoken disrespectfully to them or swore at them because I don’t do that).

My whole life people have told me I need to get a tougher skin (so such things don’t upset or hurt you), but my heart is hard. How does a tougher skin and the goal of a softer heart go together? My sister says they don’t. She says they are opposing goals. I think maybe, it isn’t a tough skin, you need at all. Maybe what you need is more patience and forbearance. You bear it patiently even though it hurts you. Maybe that is the goal.



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