Life Lessons in the Real World

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How to Make the World a Better Place One Tiny Gesture at a Time

betterworld.jpgIs there a particular type of rude behavior that grates on your nerves?

I personally can’t stand it when people talk in the movie theater. And yet, even as I sit there in the dark, popcorn in hand, listening to the cattle-like droning of the couple two isles back, it occurs to me that not everyone shares my sense of movie-going etiquette.

When I pay 8 bucks to see a movie, I expect to be able to hear it; some people prefer to hear Cousin Ida on the cell phone, blabbering about eye liner and lip gloss.

We all have pet peeves – aggravations that kill our happiness – and for each peeve we experience, chances are there is one we’ve inflicted upon someone else. Consequently, we humans, through the simple process of living, manage to stomp all over each other’s happiness.

Earlier this month, the Civility Initiative released the results of a survey on rude behavior. This particular survey focused on the workplace, but the results, which identified the 10 most annoying examples of rudeness, apply to life beyond work as well. The behaviors in this list are way too common; how much better could we make the world if we did our part to eliminate them?

Top 10 Most Annoying Rude Behaviors

10. Using cell phones or text messaging in mid-conversation or during an appointment or meeting

9. Smoking in non-smoking places or smoking in front of non-smokers without asking

8. Misuse of handicapped privileges

7. Littering (including trash, spitting, pet waste)

6. Children behaving aggressively or bullying others

5. Jokes or remarks that mock another’s race, gender, age, disability, sexual preference or religion

4. Treating service providers as inferiors

3. Taking credit for someone else’s work

2. Erratic or aggressive driving that endangers others

1. Discrimination in an employment situation

All of these transgressions have one thing in common: they’re inconsiderate.

I use the word ‘inconsiderate’ instead of ‘rude’ because it gets to the heart of the problem: the lack of consideration that we feel for others and that others feel for us.

We’re busy. Life is challenging. And many would say we’re egocentric by nature. And the end result is that we often act without consideration for the people around us.

But my theory has always been that every negative action is like a ripple on the surface of a lake, spreading negativity across an ocean of humanity and eventually doubling back upon us. Some people call this Karma. I call it common sense.

Research has proven, time and again, that when we contribute to another person’s happiness, we contribute to our own too. So why do we so often act rudely instead of kindly? Frown instead of smile? Demand instead of persuade?

When we think about making the world a better place, all too often we envision grand gestures, huge sacrifices. But most of life is not made up of opportunities for grand gestures. Most of life is made up of little, mostly inconsequential events. So by virtue of their sheer number, these seemingly inconsequential events provide the greatest opportunity to contribute to the happiness of others.

In other words, if you really want to make the world a better place, start with the small stuff. Be a considerate driver, even when everyone else is driving like a fool. Don’t park in the handicapped spot. Don’t start text messaging your best friend while you’re having a face-to-face conversation with someone else. Be nice to the people who mow your lawn, remove your trash, and deliver your mail. Fill up the pot of coffee at work instead of draining it dry and leaving it empty for the next guy. Listen to others attentively. Smile. Be nice.

Imagine the huge impact we could have if we all insisted on spreading happiness into the world, one tiny gesture at a time.

Categories: Purpose and Meaning


7 Responses to “How to Make the World a Better Place One Tiny Gesture at a Time”

  • Welmoed says:

    The phrase I’ve used with my kids is “What kind of world would this world be, if everyone in it acted just like me?”
    It’s a great way to think about your behaviors and, hopefully, filter out the ones that would make the world a less pleasant place.
    Great article.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Excellent comment Welmoed. The phrase that you use with your kids is one that I may borrow at some point, if you don’t mind. :)

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  • Ellen Rennard says:

    I’ve heard this in more than one place: “Be the change you want to see in this world.”

    Some of the items here are beyond “inconsiderate” such as employment discrimination, which is actually illegal.

    My pet peeve is people crowding in front of the elevator they’re waiting for so that no one can get off and let them in. :-)

  • JohnPlace says:

    Thanks for the comment, Ellen!

    To be honest, I find the organization of this list a tad strange, something I was aware of when I posted it, although I find it useful and interesting. For example, why is childhood bullying included in a list that is supposed to focus on the workplace?

    As you said, a few of these items go well beyond the standard definition of inconsiderate. The word “rude,” which was actually used in the study, seems insufficient as well. And yet, despite these inconsistencies, I still believe we have an enormous capacity (the lot of us together) to make the world a better place through simple acts of kindness. :-)

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  • An excellent post with logical points, I have been a lurker here for some time but desire to become a lot more engaged soon.

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