Eric Hoffer was wrong. “Rudeness” is not always “a weak person’s imitation of strength”. Perhaps disrespect is, but rudeness and disrespect are two different things.
“Rude” is subjective, defined by the social expectations of whatever company you happen to be in at that moment. Different cultures and individuals have different ideas of how we should behave. Behavior that offends some people may be desired by others, and vice versa. Most people consider it rude to fart in front of them, but if we’re alone together, I consider it rude to consciously hold your gas around me. My social desires and sensitivities are not less valid or important simply because they are less popular; they are still based on subjective preferences, just like everyone else’s are.
Disrespect is an internal experience, and how disrespect is shown depends on the person. You can be rude without being disrespectful, and you can be disrespectful without being rude. This is one of the reasons why I reject etiquette. I myself am very good at being blatantly disrespectful towards someone while being perfectly “polite”. I know that people are conditioned to automatically assume that you respect them if you simply follow society’s predetermined rules, and I’ve taken full advantage of that conditioning. They don’t realize that, for me, defaulting to such protocol is an act of disrespect that covers up more acts of disrespect. They even reward me for disrespecting them, all because I did it in a “socially acceptable” manner.
That is, admittedly, an act of weakness on my part. Yes, not being “rude” is weak of me. I use what society calls “good manners” to shield my true feelings and intentions. Generally, I don’t even respect the kind of people who share society’s perspective on “appropriate behavior” anyway. Not only do I always have to wonder whether they are genuinely respecting me or just following protocol, but the rules themselves are so stupid that you have to be inferior to agree with them.
The fact that I can’t be myself around you without judgment doesn’t help with the trust factor, either. Especially since you could be your raw self around me, and even if your natural behavior happens to disturb me, I would embrace and encourage you for it. I would judge your actions by their motives, not by how I personally feel about them. In other words, I’d treat you the way I want to be treated.
When I’m around the people respect (and trust) the most, I let my guard down and behave as my conscience tells me to. My actions come from my heart, not from an adapted list of “appropriate” actions and reactions. The people I fart up a storm around are the people I’d starve myself for to make sure they eat first (and literally have). The people I restrain myself around, on the other hand… if they drop a $100 bill around me and don’t notice for long enough, then I’ll be $100 richer just like that.
Respect me enough to allow me to be myself, and I’ll respect you enough to do so.
It’s easy to disrespect people right to their faces without them even noticing, especially when they’ve already handed you the instructions on how to do it. Manners can be a disrespectful person’s imitation of respect. I can’t fool the people I respect so easily, however. Letting them know the real language of my heart makes me vulnerable, as they’d immediately know that I’m up to something if I suddenly revert to societal convention. Etiquette, after all, is how I disguise my true feelings and intentions.
Here’s an extremely important factor to consider as well: Rudeness isn’t always intentional. Sometimes social rules are broken by accident and/or because the person cannot live up to them at the time. Sometimes social rules are broken simply because the person is unaware of them. These people are obviously not “imitating” anything, and they may have all the respect in the world for those around them but just couldn’t act on it the way they were expected to.
Even intentional rudeness isn’t always disrespectful. A person may defy social convention because they believe it is morally incorrect. When treating you “well” by society’s standards may mean treating you badly by my own, I’m not doing it. If I respect you, I would rather do what I believe is right and face the consequences while my heart is bared and vulnerable. If I don’t respect you, then I’m just going to remorselessly do whatever it takes to get what I want from you with minimal discomfort to myself, even if it means obeying rules that I consider ridiculous, immoral and dehumanizing.
Sure, some people are rude because they think they’re superior to others, or simply don’t care how their actions affect others so long as they get their way. That’s disrespectful, not because of what they’re doing but because of why they’re doing it.
I also believe that some things are inherently disrespectful: like calling someone “worthless”, pretending you love someone just so you can spend their money, attempting to win me over with “good manners” as opposed to acting out of the genuine goodness of your heart, or hypocritically forcing rules on others that are meant to keep you comfortable at the expense of their comfort. All of this stems from viewing someone as a less valuable human being.
Disrespect isn’t weak in and of itself, but I believe acting on it usually is. I’m not exempt from this, either. I think we should just try to avoid the people we don’t respect, and if we can’t avoid them, try to refrain from any impulse to act on our negative feelings towards them.
Rudeness doesn’t always indicate weakness, and certainly isn’t always an “imitation of strength”. It isn’t a “social tantrum”, either, as some idiot blogger on YourTango described it as; I actually use etiquette as a sort of tantrum, as it enables me to lash out at people directly without them knowing. Sometimes rudeness indicates the strength to place one’s principles above the desire for quick and easy social acceptance. Sometimes it isn’t even intended or controllable. In any case, measuring everyone’s “strength” by a concept that changes definition depending on what country, town or house you happen to be in is just absurd.
And remember, folks: Just because a quote is old and popular doesn’t mean it’s true. Even Jesus was often “rude” by society’s standards in His time, but He obviously wasn’t weak, and His specific rules are the only ones we should be enforcing on others. Etiquette itself is disrespectful, as it selfishly demands that others suppress their true natures and even forsake their own values just so we can be comfortable. Oh, the irony.