Misanthropic Maverick – what’s with the rudeness?!

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Misanthropic Maverick – what’s with the rudeness?! Four years ago, I wrote articles for this magazine under the banner of “The Misanthropic Maverick”. In these I commented on the behaviours I noted around me during the pandemic. Now, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world seems to have become a breeding ground for rudeness and incivility. From overt abuse in online forums to hostility in everyday interactions, the erosion of basic manners feels like it has become distressingly common. This is doing little for my misanthropy.

Why have people become so unfriendly, unkind and just plain rude? The answer, I believe, lies in the unique circumstances brought about by the pandemic. With the shift towards remote work and social isolation, many people have found refuge in the anonymity afforded by working and playing online. Behind the safety of screens, people feel emboldened to unleash their often ill-informed views. Add into that the ability to have a fake ID on most online platforms (despite what they tell you) and you have a recipe for people acting with impunity. Indeed, impunity means they can be confident they will get away with it.  And get away with it they do.  

What kind of examples do we have?

However, it is not just online harassment. With the rise of licensed TV channels in the UK, and the growth in online television on a global scale, it is easier for “news” programmes to be presented to the public which are, in fact, little more than vitriolic talking shops. These are particularly problematic when they feature serving politicians. Despite the fact that politicians are perpetually low-ranked in public trust or popularity polls, they still hold a perceived position of authority in the eyes of many electors. So when politicians are seen to behave poorly, either on TV shows or in televised debates in Parliament, it could be understood that they are giving permission to the public to behave that poorly. They are problematic exemplars. And their examples do little to reduce the polarisation in society.

In addition, the constant barrage of distressing world news has left many feeling uneasy and aggressively on edge. In this kind of emotional state, it is all too easy to lash out at others as a means of coping with one’s own anxiety and stress. Unfortunately, this appears to have created a vicious cycle of negativity, where rudeness begets more rudeness, both online and off. Add into that the basic polarisation in society around faith and race which sadly still prevail, and you have a recipe for lasting social problems in my view.

How did this rudeness come about?

Now, as The Misanthropic Maverick, I have a theory about this. You might imagine that I do. It is pretty clear from what I have written here that I take a pretty dim view of the lowering of behavioural standards. In short, there is no place for rudeness in our social dealings. Whether you like people or not (and I don’t like many) it is perfectly possible to make your views known and still be civil. It is possible even to vent your feelings strongly … and still be civil. And it is, of course, completely possible to vent your feelings and avoid discriminatory nonsense that is plain unlawful.

What is my theory? The Covid-19 pandemic brought people together in a way which evoked for older people a nod toward the “wartime spirit” (still so much in the British psyche is controlled by a war which ended almost 80 years ago). My theory is that people began to suffer from niceness fatigue. The world was turned upside-down. Most importantly, the boundaries of normal social behaviour were ripped apart by enforced isolation. So, as a result, the societal norms were thrown up in the air and not really reorganised and re-confirmed as they fell back down.

What I suspect is that this has given permission to the disaffected, malevolent or spineless to exploit loopholes in acceptable behaviour. Whether forgiven as “stir-crazy banter” or given its colloquial title of “trolling”, being unpleasant to strangers has become a norm where I would argue it simply was not as widespread or accepted pre-Covid. It existed, of course, but public displays of rudeness appear to have been normalised. Again, key world leaders of the last few years continue to be utterly culpable in allowing this. The Extreme Mavericks among them are particularly to blame!

My Maverick Manifesto against rudeness

It is clear from my comments that I find myself at odds with this worsening behaviour. I refuse to accept rudeness as the status quo, whether online or in person.  Maverickness is about wilfully independent thinking. It is not about a behavioural free-for-all. Therefore, I would suggest that Socialised Maverick values of respect, fairness and openness could have a role to play here.  

I am advocating for a return to basic civility. Specifically, I am calling here for a return to accountability; whatever we say in public has to be subject to basic law and that action is supported to punish those who persist in persecuting others. Anonymous online accounts should not be possible and certainly should not be permitted. Public figures should be held to account for their actions. Public apologies should be mandatory with media outlets having to give the same scale of prominence to the apology and fact checking as they did to the original slur.

Of course, being a Maverick does not mean I am so naïve as to expect this to happen. And my additional misanthropy means I distrust my fellow citizens anyhow. Nevertheless, I am sure that advocating civility and kindness in public interactions would have an impact. It could be a public campaign that people could really get behind. The #BeKind online movement was undermined unhelpfully by celebrity misbehaviour.

So, as you read this, please may I ask you to consider how you treat others? If your first instinct is to become that “keyboard warrior”, stop! If it comes naturally to you to mutter something under your breath when you’re driving, take a deep breath and smile. After all, how does it actually help, to moan, criticise and harass? It doesn’t actually help your health and it surely doesn’t help the object of the abuse.  

Kindness truly costs nothing. As Dr Maya Angelou wrote once, “people will never forget how you made them feel”. How about making everyone you deal with, feel good?  

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