~ 24 April 2008 ~

Civility as putdown

Civility is important — even necessary — in a society that seeks to be known as civilized. But, there are times when civility can go the wrong way. Walker Percy provides an excellent example in his novel The Thanatos Syndrome, where the protagonist (psychiatrist Tom More) encounters an old janitor with whom he’d had familiar rapport for years (emphasis mine):

“How you doing, Frank?”

“Good morning, Doctor.”

“Still featherbedding—” I begin in our old chaffing style, but he cuts me off with, of all things, “Have a nice day, Doctor”— and back to his polishing without missing the swing of the machine. I could have been any doctor, anybody.

Here again, a small thing. Nothing startling. He might simply have decided to dispose of me with standard U.S. politeness, which is indeed the easiest way to get rid of people. Have a nice day—

Or he might have decided that the ultimate putdown is this same American civility. What better dismissal than to treat someone you’ve known for forty years like a drive-up customer at Big Mac’s? [p.17]

Mere civility where more is wanting can be as injurious as an insult.

All the same, have a nice day.

Posted by Jared Bridges | | Print This Print This

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