There are some people who feel that they never get their way when dealing with other people. I have found that much of the time, it has a lot to do with being polite — specifically with the people not being as polite as they think they are being to other people.

Here are a few cases in which I have observed politeness — or the lack of said politeness — and where it has taken people. To start, there is the story of one of my co-workers who has spent the last few days calling customer support lines. I heard him speaking for many minutes in between my own calls. Every time he would ask a question, he would ask it in the most demeaning manner I think I have ever heard. I didn’t hear quite how the people reacted to what he was saying, but they always led to his speaking to their supervisors and then speaking to the supervisors of those supervisors.

A contrasting story — I was waiting in line at Barnes and Noble at the customer information desk and the person was loudly complaining about the person taking too long in finding the information that he supposedly needed — it apparently was the kind of thing that meant the difference between life and death for him. It wasn’t long before I stepped up in line and carefully asked the person for help with finding a book. He apologized for the search taking longer than it should have due to a network issue and I joked that it always happened when you most didn’t want it to happen. The person at the desk not only found the book but walked over with me and helped me find it.

Lastly, I would like to tell a true story that happened when Elizabeth, Chad and I went to see the new Harry Potter film. Because we went to a midnight screening, we had to wait a really long time in line. As she was several months pregnant at the time, Elizabeth couldn’t possibly bear to stand that long. She had asked previously if it were possible to get a chair while we waited and they said that it was. We got in line and Elizabeth approached the person in charge of the midnight showing and said that she had been told she could get a chair and very nicely asked if that were still the case.

The person smiled and said, “Of course, dear.” She brought over a chair and sat my wife right into it. When we started heading into the movie theater Elizabeth thanked the woman profusely and gave the chair back. I can’t help but think that if she had barged into the theater and started yelling about wanting a chair and demanding her rights, she wouldn’t have gotten nearly as good service.

Do you have any examples of when being polite has led to rewarding treatment? Perhaps any examples where your being polite ended up hurting you somehow? (I hold that it still is worth it to be polite in the end.)


  1. Thank you for this wonderful morality play, Gordon. The examples are appropriate and necessary. You remind me of a story Howard Stein used to tell us often in class about the denatured people you meet in public. He was on a subway and had a good seat. The train was crowded. A pregnant woman entered the train. Nobody moved to give her a seat, so she stood there holding onto the railing as the train thrashed around on the tracks. Howard called out to her across the subway car and gave up his seat to her. As she settled into his seat, she didn’t thank him. Instead, she said: “Sucker!”

Comments are closed.