If there was one etiquette rule that I internalized my entire life, it was the idea that you should NEVER call someone out for being rude. (Ok, except if they try to upstream you.) Someone forgets to send you a thank you note? Rude. You call that person to chastise them for not sending one? WAY MORE RUDE. Don’t invite +1s to your wedding? Totally fine, though some people seem to think it’s rude. Yelling at a bride and groom for not getting a +1? YOU ARE THE WORST HUMAN.
This has made it so that being called “rude” is a terrible insult, and thus, if someone has felt the need override this rule because of what you’re doing, then what you’re doing must be inhumane. Sure, we’ve probably all had a momentary outburst at a stranger who is bothering us, but I’m hard pressed to find a time in my life when I’ve told a friend or family member that what they’re doing is a rude action, even if I’ve felt it with all my being.
However, there is one thing that is not and never will be rude: having an opinion about your own life. So let’s stop treating it like it is.
Ama Yawson recently wrote this incredible piece for The Atlantic about racism, tolerated behaviors, and teaching her children to stand up for themselves. Please go read it now. This is important. But what struck me about it is the whole thing was couched in the language of etiquette. People laugh “politely” when they hear racist speech. The idea of having courage to speak up is weighed against basic “courtesies.” Apparently being a good sport means never disagreeing with someone. She writes, “As a child, I was taught to refrain from reprimanding others for fear of causing them shame. Moreover, many of us are conditioned to avoid the potential discomfort and social ostracism that such reprimands might trigger.”
Let’s be clear: “Polite” and “rude” are not synonyms for “right” and “wrong.” There is a huge difference between yelling at your houseguest for not making the bed and calling out a barber when he calls your son the N-word*, and speaking of the latter in terms of what is “polite” and what is “rude” is doing both sides a disservice. Yet this idea of something as “rude” has been turned into an insult you can hurl at anyone if they happen to disagree with your twisted view of humanity. “You don’t want to be rude, do you?” is now a a sinister threat. We’ve all been taught that being nice means never voicing a different opinion.
Obviously racist, sexist, and other intolerant behavior is something you should stand up against. But there are other times, smaller times, where having a personal need that goes against someone else’s plans is treated as a breach of etiquette. I immediately think of wedding planning, when so often brides stating opinions are referred to as “bridezillas.” I think of how I worry about my friends thinking I’m rude if I cancel plans because of a sudden onslaught of social anxiety. Hell, I worry that if my fiance and I are trying to figure out what to eat for dinner and I suggest “pizza” too powerfully he’s going to think I don’t respect his opinion.
It is often difficult to figure out the difference between being polite and being a pushover, especially when adhering to social graces is held in such esteem. People like it when other people are nice to them; that’s the whole reason we even have this damn website. We can all think of times where we should have spoken up but didn’t, or should have kept our mouths shut.
We all want to be treated with common courtesy, but sometimes that means demanding it. Not putting up with bigoted behavior is not a matter of etiquette, it’s a matter of basic human decency. You should never apologize for your fundamental being. You deserve space on this earth just like everyone else. So let the language of etiquette be used to discuss noisy neighbors and baby shower gifts. Don’t you dare worry about being polite.
*Which, by the way, you have every right to speak out against if just for the fact that you are paying him for a service you specified and he did not do it to your liking.