5 Nice Things You Do Daily (That Secretly Ruin the World)
Look at you. You hold doors open for strangers, you always say please, and that table may as well be lava to your smooth, courteous elbows. You are a bastion of politeness. And you are destroying the world. See, politeness is fine and dandy when you're talking salad forks and soup spoons, but when you extend those basic rules of being a decent human into other aspects of society, this whole civilization thing just falls apart.
Being Polite in Traffic Is Akin to Murder
Traffic Quiz: You're driving in the right lane of a two-lane, one-way street, when you see a nicely dressed pedestrian trying to cross the road. She's several blocks away from the nearest intersection, and there are no crosswalks, but she's obviously in a hurry and has been stuck waiting there forever. You slow, you make eye contact, you smile, and you wave her across.
You smooth operator you.
You are a murderer.
You smooth accessory to vehicular-manslaughter you.
Personal injury lawyers have become so familiar with such vehicular niceties that they've coined a term for them: the "wave of death." See, the problem is that when a driver cedes the right of way just to be nice, the pedestrian unconsciously assumes that said driver's got her back. After all, the driver wouldn't have waved her across without first checking all the surrounding lanes for oncoming traffic, right? It doesn't always play out that way. Many times the driver's wave only means "if you step in front of my car, I will probably not run you down." Notice that in our example above, we didn't say you checked for traffic behind you. So there's a good chance that you're directly responsible for transforming that nice lady into a well-dressed stew when a car barrels past you in the left lane.
"Honestly, the thing I'm maddest about is the cilantro on me."
It's the same deal for left-turn situations (where the general rule of the road is that a driver turning left must yield to oncoming traffic). Wave somebody through politely without checking all the lanes behind you or assuring that somebody doesn't pull around you on the shoulder, and you're basically hand-guiding the turner into an angled or broadside collision, a type which accounts for a full 20 percent of all lethal collisions. Oh, and good manners don't override the law. If you disobey right-of-way as a result of a friendly wave and end up hospitalized, in the eyes of The Man you're responsible for the damages to the car that hit you.
Although, really, paying to fix the dent your skull put in that Hyundai is the polite thing to do.
Respecting Your Superiors Can Cause the Loss of Innocent Lives
We've all been there: your boss screwed up. But saying something along the lines of, "Sir, I think you yanked these numbers straight out of your upper rectum and, speaking of erroneous shit stains, you are one," is considered rude. So instead you opt for delicacy: "Wow, you know what's hard? Math. And spreadsheets -- man, don't even get me started on spreadsheets," you say, while nervously gesturing toward the presentation that's about to sink the whole company.
"Maybe if I ignore him, he'll resign."
Experts call such pussyfooting "mitigated speech." The problem is that it takes more brain power to decode a polite and deferent message than it does a more direct, arguably disrespectful one, and brain power is unfortunately a dwindling natural resource.
But it won't just sink our hypothetical business. Mitigated speech costs lives: around 80 percent of airplane accidents happen because of human error. What the numbers don't show is how many of those accidents could have been avoided if flight personnel weren't trying to play nice with their superiors. Yet, there's plenty of research suggesting that politeness should be added to the airlines' prohibited-items list, especially when co-pilots are indirect when relaying crucial information to the captain.
"I'm going to give you three guesses what we're rapidly running out of."
"Altitude? Fuel? Time?"
One real-life example occurred in 1982, when an Air Florida flight was preparing to leave Washington, D.C. The plane had a dangerous buildup of ice on the wings, and the first officer damn well knew it. But instead of saying, "Captain, there's a dangerous buildup of ice on the wings," he said, "Look how the ice is just hanging on his, ah, back, back there, see that?" When the captain didn't get what he was hinting at, he tried again. "See all those icicles on the back there and everything?" Still no dice. "Boy, this is a, this is a losing battle here on trying to de-ice those things. It you a false feeling of security, that's all that does."
After one last failed attempt at politely telling his superior that the plane was unsafe to fly, they took off. Minutes later, he finally made a direct, impossible-to-misconstrue statement. It was also his last: "Larry, we're going down, Larry."
At least 78 people wished that co-pilot had been a bit more of a dick.
Good Conversational Manners Hinder Female Viewpoints
Politeness and etiquette can basically be boiled down to knowing your place and acting accordingly. For instance, if you're a student, it's polite to address your teacher formally. If you're at a royal banquet, you're expected to fill your soup spoon only two-thirds. And if you're a woman, it's considered rude if you speak, have opinions, or don't do as you're told.
But hey, enjoy that soup.
All right, maybe that last one isn't explicitly stated in any modern etiquette guides, but on some subconscious level, we still expect interaction between the sexes to function like that, as evidenced by differences in how men and women converse. Women generally use conversational styles that emphasize involvement, inclusiveness, intimacy, and group harmony. Men, on the other hand, tend to handle group conversations like a verbal pissing match, using interruptions, delayed responses, and disobeying turn-taking roles (not shutting up, in other words) to control the interaction. That's usually fine when it's men speaking with other men -- everybody's basically using the same tactics. But in group conversations with both men and women, female styles tend to suppress their own needs by deferring to men in order to maintain group harmony, thereby effectively positioning themselves on a lower rung of the social ladder. This happens even when the woman is of a higher social status than the man, such as when a male patient speaks to a female doctor.
"I'm afraid it's-"
"Fit as horse? Great news! Just get me some Vicodin and Viagra, and I'll be on my way."
"... uh, yes sir. Right away."
A study was done to see just how much talking time men and women get and, more importantly, how fairly they felt that time was divided. Researchers secretly recorded conversations between academic men and women, and when the participants were interviewed afterward, all of the women felt that they had received their fair share of time -- even though their actual speaking time ranged from as little as 8 percent to at most 42 percent. Meanwhile, the men complained that they had not gotten their fair share of talk time, even when they'd dominated up to 75 percent of the conversation. "I wish it was only me talking forever," men basically said. "I don't understand why these other people are cock-blocking my sexy words."
Being Polite to Your Doctor Impedes Self-Preservation
Being anything less than thoroughly considerate to your doctor seems like a bad idea. There are two professionals you don't mess with: the guy who makes your food and the guy who handles your gonads. The problem comes up when the short-term need to be polite is stronger than the long-term need to not die. Who on Earth would ever opt for a slow death over a moment's rudeness?
Good guess, but no.
Enter the British.
In 2009, a survey funded by Cancer Research UK revealed that a whopping 40 percent of Brits wouldn't go to the hospital with their cancer symptoms, simply because it would be impolite to bother the doctor with their personal discomforts. Which is especially odd, since you may recognize "your personal discomforts" as the entire reason that doctors exist. Compared with the rest of Europe, it's estimated that as many as 11,000 deaths could be prevented every year if Brits would just remove the sticks from their asses ... although, come to think of it, that would probably also require a doctor visit.
"Busy day at the office?"
"Yeah, but we're good for firewood this winter."
Brits aren't the only culture that lets politeness stand in the way of their health: Southeast Asians living in the U.S. fall into a similar trap when seeking healthcare. Basically, since they respect the authority of the medical personnel, it would be rude to question them regarding such things as treatment plans or diagnostic techniques. Actually, it would be rude to question them at all, so even if the doctor seems to be yammering in some unknown demon tongue, they generally pretend to understand and enthusiastically agree.
Politeness Turns Societies Into Powder Kegs of Violence and Murder
You know that neighbor who's way, way too polite? Sure, maybe he's just Mormon or something, but you can't shake the feeling that there's something wrong with him. Probably got bodies stashed in his basement. It seems like a weird, baseless accusation at first, but you may not be wrong ...
"Want to see my skin collection?"
Anthropologists have discovered that an exceedingly polite society is also an exceedingly violent one. This can be clearly demonstrated in many different cultures in Asia, the Mediterranean, and Africa, such as the !Kung San people of the Kalahari Desert. They've been described by anthropologists as a gentle and harmless people for their kind and peaceful tendencies ... yet they have a proportional murder rate three times higher than the U.S. average.
And they're not alone. The Gebusi from Papua New Guinea are known as an exceptionally warm and friendly people with a communal spirit that borders on idyllic. They also have a murder rate 50 freaking times higher than the U.S. average, with a full third of all adults between 1940 and 1982 having been straight-up ganked.
So what gives? Well, it seems that overt politeness is, ultimately, a catalyst for extreme violence. If everyone's inordinately polite all the time, then the moment someone breaks that social code it becomes a grievous insult that must be corrected (via face-stabbing).
"I said preserves, not jam!!!"
If you need an example closer to home, look no further than the last bastion of manners in America: the South. In one study, researchers had Northerners and Southerners take turns sitting in a room with a dude whose express mission was to insult the hell out of them. The Northerners tended to respond to the abuse by tossing it right back. The Southerners, on the other hand, kept their cool, staying polite right up until a critical breaking point, when they blasted off like a rocket ship destined for planet Whoopass.
It seems that, since Northerners don't hold themselves to the same strict social code, they're able to shake off aggression by simply being rude right back at the offender, while Southerners bottle it up until it erupts. Politeness is like the cap on a bottle of kill-soda, and every single indiscretion, no matter how slight or innocent, shakes that bottle a little bit more.
Enjoy cool, crisp, refreshing violence!
For more ways good shit is ruining us, check out The 5 Most Terrifying Side Effects of Exercise and 21 Rules We Should Suspend/Enforce One Day Each Year.
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