Good manners are society’s means to one end

You only need to curtsy for royalty these days...
You only need to curtsy for royalty these days…

“[Beneatha Younger:]… He said everybody ought to learn how to sit down and hate each other with good Christian fellowship.” ~excerpt from Act II, Scene 3 of A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

I go to a grocery store to buy myself a carton of ice cream and quickly enter the fast checkout lane.  The cashier looks briefly at me and, in a toneless voice, asks me how I am doing.  Now, I pause.  There are 3 possible reactions to this overused, unemotional question coming from a stranger: #1, I ignore the question altogether, since I don’t think the cashier cares how I am doing either way; #2, I care less and use a toneless voice to reply “Fine,” the accepted reply to such an inquiry straight out of an etiquette book; #3, I ask the cashier a question instead of replying or I come up with the most original (polite or rude) statement possible as an answer to “How are you doing?”.  Here is the possibility to do something different or to be insipid.  Whatever I choose, it doesn’t really matter, does it?  The probability that my response will be effective in any way is low.  But it is this kind of situation that constitutes what society labels “the rules of politeness” and how you should act.

Did I say “should act”?  I meant “must act.”  Let’s face the face of Politeness.  Whether you’re a business associate bargaining in a deal, a sales clerk working in a store, a person who simply wants to resolve an issue, or a shopper who needs to return a defective item to a store, you have to adhere to the rules of etiquette.  No, you do not have a choice, like most modern teenagers need to think.  Look what happens if you raise your voice in an argument in a public place like a bank.  A bank teller will “politely” tell you to stop, or he/she will call security.  Threats are masked by a false sense of polite authority.  If you go against “the rules” and say what you think, you will be stopped.  Every letter that has demands or complaints is merely a threat in disguise, covered by some phrase like “respectfully request,” when all the organization or person is saying is that if you do not do what they say, they will…expel you permanently.  Or whatever threat works best.  It makes no difference if you are acting within the law…freedom is and has always been a figure of speech.

Another facial expression of Politeness is to what end you make your acquaintanceship with it.  Basically, whenever people use what they call “good manners,” they are trying to persuade you in mild terms in order to achieve what they want, the result being your actions mirroring their ultimate intent.  For example: you have an overdraft fee on your bank account, and it is not justified.  You have no idea how it got there, and why your account is overdrawn when you’re sure you had a sufficient balance.  Now your account is overdrawn, and you are furious, since it all happened so suddenly.  You cannot fix it online, a true pity because the Internet is such a simple, uncomplicated way to reach your ulterior wants without risking actual interaction.  Therefore, you call the banking center.  You have to deal with automated messages, which irritate your patience, and then you have a chance to fix the problem by speaking to a person who has the power to fix it.  They call this “people skills” instead of politeness skills.  Your mind is thinking one thing: be persuasive, stay cool, and the banker will do exactly what you want them to, within reason.  In steps Politeness, the barrier between you and the other person that conceals the fact that your “good manners” are the means to one end: getting what you want.  Isn’t that what this is all about?  When you want to pass someone by who is in your way, “Excuse me” are just two swift words that mean nothing except an avoidance of a scene in which the other person complains about being pushed around.  Right?

Moreover, most people have learned this system of polite manipulation in their childhood.  They do not have good manners (or what society says are good manners) because they are really nice and want to treat the other person well during mutual interaction.  Call me cynical, but people are out to grab what they want.  Their actions have motives.  And every motive has an end to achieve.  If I respond “Fine” to a store clerk when they ask me some random question they are taught to say by their employers for society’s sake, it’s because I want to get the process over with as soon as possible, not because I’m really fine or care that the clerk is asking me anything.  Selfish, but true.  And I believe that the whole concept of good manners and politeness are selfish…that they are society’s means to do what they want.  And when you resist, when you are not rude but firm, when you do not accept to be “polite” when you have cause to be angry, when you stand up for what you know and evade any chance for polite dismissal, then you’re in hot water.  Because “good manners” are not a way of acting, they are the way you have to act…unless you want to be threatened with “security” or “the cops” every time you have a dispute.  And that’s another story, when you have to face either of them.

I’m not saying that you must be polite or (even worse) be rude and walk all over people…I’m saying that society has left us little choice in the matter.  I applaud everyone who actually has good manners for manners’ sake, because they genuinely want to treat others well.  Unfortunately…the idea of “politeness”…this idea is dangerous and ridiculous, and a serious issue in itself.  When you have to deal with other people in order to reach your goal, which happens all the time, I can only give this advice: Be careful.

Natalie Gorna

New harassment and new music

Sometimes the events in our lives lead us to new habits, conclusions, decisions, people…and music.  After last Sunday’s trials, I find myself listening more and more to two particular songs, “Never Let Me Go” by Florence + The Machine and “Keep Holding On” by Avril Lavigne.  As well as the latter, the former has become a personal favorite, a sad, haunting, and deeply lulling song about finding peace and being embraced by something you find deep fulfillment in.

Last Sunday was July 15.  And strangely enough, this time there were no cops in sight.  Oh no.  This time they sent a civilian to do their dirty work.  My mom and I woke up around 6:30 in the morning, preparing ourselves for another day of heat.  We fed our cats, watched them eat outside our car—in other words, acted normally.  We didn’t look like we were fainting or that we had car trouble.  Nearby, some man and his child came via vehicle and were playing on the basketball court.  I didn’t pay much attention to them, except that I noticed in midst of things that the child was somehow left unattended.  Very strange indeed.  But I would have thought nothing of it and gone on with my day if…that man didn’t jump into his vehicle and head straight for us.

Being polite to your neighbors is great.  Having manners and using them in everyday life is superb.  Asking someone in a menacing tone of voice if they’re okay and literally demanding an answer is definitely harassment.  I admit, some strangers have asked that question during the past few years, and although I bristle at the question every time, I politely answer it with enough indifference.  However, this man was…acting like a cop out of uniform.  Worse than nosy, first he claimed he was “worried” for us or something phony-sounding like that…but then he said he was spying on us for half an hour, that we were “acting suspiciously.”  He also started using that pompous, threatening manner people who claim to be in authority use.  And what the heck was he doing at 7 am on a school playground on a Sunday, leaving his child alone on public property?  His “Are you okay?” turned into a full-on interrogation, his tone getting angrier and angrier and more accusatory because we felt no obligation to do what he commanded us to do.  In the end, despite our attempts to tell him to take a hike and leave us alone, he threatened to call them, the “real” cops.  And supposedly, he did.  While driving.  Now who’s acting illegally?  Also, we left the area shortly after, and who turns around and follows behind us for 2 miles of driving?  You guessed correctly.  Plus, he was still on the phone (no headset).  And he was stalking us.  Really.  He followed and made every single turn we did for miles of street.  I think he even followed us to a shopping center parking lot.  And to top everything off, his “kid” was in the car the whole time, watching this bozo do illegal things and act crazy many times over.  What a sicko.  Every American citizen is entitled to privacy, even if he/she is in public where privacy is less certain per individual.  Moreover, no one, NO ONE can just approach you on a public street out of the blue where you happen to park and ask you what’s your business there.  By law and common sense, you have the right to refuse to answer.  You’re not doing anything wrong, you’re just existing like everyone else.  This moron who accosted us gave off the impression that it was his business to know why we were there.  We’d never seen him before in our lives.  He was a complete stranger, his motives for approaching us definitely not springing from any human feeling of caring.  Which was proven by how he asked, what he said, and the fact that he didn’t offer us any help.  He just wanted to KNOW.  He demanded —yes, demanded!— to be answered, like he was some kind of demented god.  Who the hell was he?

I can only sigh very deeply, remember my fright at that time, and say we did manage to throw him off in the end when he was following us so determinedly.  But it just goes to show that whoever sent him to do this to us just won’t leave us alone…won’t leave us in peace.  Therefore, lots of listening to sad music and eye-closing music on my part.  Oh, and lots of thinking and recollection too.

Anyway, enjoy “Never Let Me Go,” which is dedicated to my best and dearest friend…you know who you are. 😉 And by the way, how do you like my blog’s updated design?

Natalie Gorna

The Gestapo are back…

Well, well, well.  It seems that even though I’ve told the “Fresno Police Department” (who have been sued and are being sued by countless people for their repeated violations of the law and their crimes) numerous times to take a hike and stop bothering us, they keep coming back.  No doubt they just love my entries describing just how much of a law enforcement agency they are and they want me to write more.  So I’ll definitely oblige this desire right here and now.

The scene of the crime this time is February 29, almost 2 a.m.  There we were, sleeping in our car.  And suddenly, this veritable prototype of Hitler’s worst henchmen wakes us up with threats and harassment of the most sinister nature.  He told my mom he’d arrest her if she didn’t get out of our car, and when she refused, he tried to open her door himself.  Really.  And after calling 5 other police cars to come to his aid in order to intimidate further two helpless women in one car, he finally desisted.  Not until my mom laid down the law on his nasty head by not giving in to his bullying.  Oh, and guess what, Fresno “police officers?”  “Courtesy” does not equal MUTE SUBMISSION.  You doofuses were doing all this to us at 2 in the morning, when NO ONE ELSE was around to witness it.   And by the way, courtesy is what you bozos calling yourselves cops should be practicing as well as those laws you’ve apparently forgotten exist to protect the rights of citizens.  When you don’t question “authority” when they’re doing something wrong, you’re allowing crimes to happen.  Nevertheless, these cretins had no right, NO RIGHT to do this to us.

Natalie Gorna