If you’ve had human contact lately, you’ve probably had a less than civil experience with someone. 76% of Americans believe the nation is becoming less civilized. What does that say about us?
While the lack of civility usually results in minor stress, frustration or inconvenience, it can also have tragic consequences. When I heard about the woman who pepper sprayed her fellow Walmart shoppers over an Xbox, I shook my head in disbelief. When I heard about the hazing death of the Florida A&M drum major and the suicide of Tyler Clemente, I shook my head in disbelief and horror. With the rise of flash mobs, Occupy-like movements, even social media, pop culture and politics seem to be pushing civility the way of the dinosaurs.
Of course, these examples reflect the extremes. But, even innocuous forms of incivility (if any form could be considered innocuous) represent rude, inconsiderate, even hostile behavior that has become a routine and acceptable part of daily life. You’re stuck in traffic and the “human” in the car next to you has a radio blaring some kind of “music” that crushes your ears. An SUV, GMC truck or other [fill in name of oversized or expensive luxury car] tailgates you or cuts you off and almost causes an accident. A shopper behind you shoves his way ahead in the checkout line before you have time to complete your transaction and remove your bags. If you dare say anything to these purveyors of incivility, you’re likely to receive even more incivility.
Needless to say, I’m fed up with the pathologically rude. I even moved further east on Long Island with dreams of leaving all the nasty aggressive people behind in Nassau County. For a while, I thought I had found the Elysian Fields. But, this week, the dream led to Nesconset Highway, where it was apparent there is a civility deficit. My destination was Trader Joe’s in Lake Grove.
I've been shopping at Trader Joe's for at least 10 years, but had never been to the Lake Grove store. First, I should mention that one of the things that distinguishes TJ’s from other healthy convenience stores (or most other stores in general) is the courtesy and helpfulness of its staff as well as the higher CQ (Civility Quotient) of its customers. As this was an especially busy day at TJ’s, I had to careen my way around numerous shopping carts that were either blocking the entire aisle, or blocking the part of the shelf or case I was attempting to access. A simple “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry” was not enough to get through the human obstacle course, so I turned around and went back down the part of the aisle I had just come from, and up the next aisle, then over to the original aisle and re-entered from the opposite end. I did this for several aisles. When I finally had all the items I needed in my cart, I took my place in one of the checkout lines. When it was my turn, I put my cart on the shelf for the cashier, then gathered some plastic bags so I could start bagging my groceries as they were scanned. Apparently, my bagging speed was not sufficient as the cashier snatched one of the bags and starting throwing the remaining items haphazardly in it so the next customer could move their shopping cart up and place their items on the space my groceries previously occupied. Before I could complete my transaction, the next customers’ groceries had taken over the checkout area and were blocking access to my bags. They also had positioned their large shopping cart with their two kids in the exit aisle, so I had to walk back into the store and cross over to the next aisle just to exit the store. Perhaps the cashier thought she was being efficient. Perhaps, she was just unaware. She took my money and that was that. She didn’t say ‘Thank you’. Now there’s a phrase close to extinction. She didn’t say ‘Goodbye’. She might as well have said ‘Drop Dead’. And if the goal was to make me glad to leave the store, she succeeded. I wonder if that’s the experience Trader Joe’s intended? Am I hypersensitive, or are we, as a society, suffering from a civility deficit? I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you’ve had a particularly uncivil experience, I’d like to hear about it. Meanwhile, I remain optimistic that the folks at Trader Joe’s really do care about their customers and my experience was just a fluke. I’m still convinced civility is alive and well in our stretch of the island and will be visiting local venues from Lake Grove to Rocky Point from now through Labor Day, hopefully, to prove that. You'll see my findings in upcoming weeks, and I'll recognize those venues that show the highest CQ!
Below is an interesting story about the state of civility: