When I was a kid my parents stressed the importance of being polite. It was often just about simple things: saying “thank you,” opening a door, or putting the dishes away. In many ways it was also about manners: greeting people, behaving at the dinner table, and respecting your elders.
As I grew older politeness evolved. It was more about being respectful and considerate of other people: helping a friend who was feeling blue, or simply listening to someone’s concerns.
When I was studying in the United States, I thought that it was somehow fake to say “nice to meet you” to a complete stranger, or ask someone “how are you doing?” when you really did not expect an honest answer. But I was wrong. At the end of the day, it was a polite way to kick off a conversation.
These days I often find myself thinking about how we treat one other. I am sure many of us followed the US presidential elections. The behaviour of some candidates and their supporters frequently crossed the line of respectful behaviour.
But it is not an isolated phenomenon on the other side of the Atlantic. Much of the discourse in Western parliamentary democracy has become offensive. It often seems to be a race about who can be the meanest.
The same thing goes for today’s media. The conventional wisdom seems to be that bad stories sell. I find it somewhat hypocritical when a newspaper speaks out against bullying on one page, and then proceeds to shred someone to pieces on another page.
Social media has brought another dimension to our possibility to behave, or misbehave as the case may be. When I give talks on social media I often say that our approach to what we type into our keyboards should be the same as it is when we meet a fellow human being face-to-face. The Internet is like an enormous living room. The only difference is that whatever you say on the net will probably leave a trace there for the rest of your life.
As a politician I am often the target of criticism. That is part of democracy and free speech. At the same time it is difficult draw the line – where does criticism become offensive or outright hate speech?
As a public figure I try to do my best to not offend anyone. It is probably impossible, but worth a try. As a parent I want to teach my kids about the importance of respecting others, much like my parents did. This is not mission impossible. On the contrary, good behaviour starts at home.
A few years back I wrote a Blue Wings column based on Stefan Einhorn’s book The Art of Being Kind. Einhorn argues that being a good person can make you happier, richer, more successful and fulfilled.
Those are four additional reasons to ask your fellow passenger how he or she is doing. Have a nice day!