Do you bless someone if the sneeze? Have you ever wondered why we do it? I have. My obsessive need to understand the structure of how things work is precisely why I cannot fathom pleasantries. Being polite is not something that sticks in my brain so I question it. Rather than offering an explanation to how the process works, most adults prefer the rather useless approach of “that’s just the way it is” learning process. This doesn’t work for me.
When I was in 3rd grade I was given a piece of chalk and asked to do a math problem on the board in front of the class. I walked up there, scribbled something on the board that prompted the other kids to burst into laughter. Assuming I was making a joke the teacher sent me to the principal’s office. This led to a series of inquiries that revealed I was not on the same level as my peers in regards to understanding how math functioned. My inability to get past my need to understand things prevented me from being able to learn. Math is taught by instruction via example. They don’t provide a break down of how the numbers do what the teacher tells you they do, they just force you to memorize times tables, formulas and acronyms that are supposed to remind you the tricks they want you to follow. It’s almost like they don’t understand how math works either they just expect you to know it does and leave it at that.
This is not true for other subjects. Science provides a method of discovery. They follow rigid steps that require consistency. English has rules of grammar. Most English instruction is taught we repeat words and we pick up their meaning by inference. Once a teacher explained the functions of the different types of words, punctuation marks and syntax it clicked. History is just memorizing facts you don’t have to know why Abe Lincoln was shot you just have to learn when and where.
As confoundingly confudling math is there is one aspect to our society that boggles my mind even more. I struggle grasping what is considered polite, impolite and rude. In my mind I don’t really perceive a difference. “Do we have any soda?” is the same as “May I please have a can of soda?” to “grab me a soda.” I understand there are subtle differences in the way humans perceive those three requests yet the syntax, the grammar, the underlying request, remains the same. You have access to soda. I want access to soda. Provide me access to said soda. The whole messy bit regarding what is polite or not passes me by entirely.
I am quite often blunt. The reason for that is I am direct. It takes less energy in my brain to cut to the chase than it does to navigate the labyrinth of social pleasantries that lends one to exchanging favors. It’s not a concept I fathom easily. My mom would always snap at me saying “that was rude!” whenever I would ask for clarity she’d retort “you know what I meant” and there we were. My being unable to correct my behavior as nobody would explain it to me, her angry at me for being “smart” when I was in fact not.
This often left me bewildered. Yes my mom taught me to say please and thank you but not everyone in our family employed this tactic nor were the consistent on doing so. This led me to question the entire institution. If it was mandatory to utter such a nonsense phrase just because someone was told to expect it then what cause was there to those times when the phrase was not used yet the results were the same? I never could reconcile this. It is the same as why when I call a friend on the phone I don’t start with hi friend how was your day, how are you, how is the weather, is your dog pooping okay, are the kids doing well in school, etc., before asking my question. I get a friend on the phone I begin with Hi how are you? Good well here’s my problem can you help? I prefer direct language. It makes sense to me.
It may have been brought to your attention during the course of reading this article I am quite capable of articulating complex sentences within the inherently convoluted grammatical structure of Modern American English. Yet you probably noticed I write more fluidly when I get to the damn point. I prefer taking the shortest route to where I am going. With the excessive amount of clutter inside my brain I like cutting through the noise. It helps me push the thoughts I don’t need out of the way to allow the ones I am trying to get to find their way to the surface.
I broke into tears recently when I realized I never learned these things. I felt stupid. I always recall the movie Ghostbusters. The part where EPA lawyers Walter Peck asks Dr. Peter Venkman if he can see the Ghostbusters storage facility. When he is denied access the bureaucrat asks why to which Dr. Vankmen retorts “because you didn’t say the magic word.” This exchange always confused me. I thought it was a joke. Thus I concluded in my own mind that saying please and thank you made no sense to me. I spent my entire life not capable of saying those words.
On a different note this is sort of why it was so hard for me to get to where I could say I love you to other people. Until I understood what love actually was I had no use for those words. It took me a while to grasp what was to me an abstract concept. I saw examples of love but never fully understood it. It wasn’t until my adopted sister showed me what real love, what real family looks like before it sunk in.
I never learned the difference between being polite, rude or blunt. I am trying to pick up the pieces today and put them together in my mind. Part of me has come to the realization the lie I was living, the mask I wore, afforded me the benefit of being rude on the grounds I was a jerk and boys are allowed to be such. Girls are expected to be more polite thus in an effort to be more feminine I have taken the time to better understand what polite looks like.
I have a long ways to go. I still come across as rude by most accounts to nearly anyone who interacts with me on a regular basis. You may have noticed in conversations I apologize a lot. Much of that stems from my not knowing when I am being rude. In situations where I am unsure I take the safest approach and assume I was rude then apologizing for it. As time goes on I hope that I can become a better person. One of the goals I have towards that end is identifying all of my behaviors that can be considered rude, trying to better understand why they are such then seek ways to improve. It’s all I can do.