Honesty as a Response to Public Rudeness


I’ve been thinking recently about a new way of interacting with rude people. A new system based on honesty rather than politeness.

To set this up, here are three things that have happened to me within the last two days.

  1. Man standing behind me is coughing out loud, right in front of the food we’re all about to eat, without covering his mouth

  2. Man gets out of his car right next to me, exhales a plume of smoke, and then drops the cigarette butt right into the driveway of the business we’re walking into

  3. I’m waiting for my food in a restaurant and see an order on the pickup counter. I’m reading the order number to see if it’s mine, and some short guy with a goatee and spiked hair comes up and yells, “THAT’S MINE!”

Now, I know what most people do in these situations. I know because it’s also what I’ve done for most of my life.

We do nothing.

We don’t comment. We don’t correct the person. We don’t call them out. What we do instead is walk away, shake our heads, and maybe complain to a friend about the asshole we just encountered.

Here’s an idea: Fuck that.

We are the guardians of a polite society. Us. You and me. In cases where no laws are being broken, we’re self-policing. So when we say nothing, we become part of the problem.

Wait. Now that I’m thinking about it, who the hell taught us that it’s rude to correct rude people? Who taught us that it’s not our business? Where did this come from?

It’s absolutely our business. If not for any other reason, it’s ours simply because it’s not anybody else’s.

So I am thinking about adopting a new policy. Honesty. Honesty on behalf of a polite society. But only for the egregious stuff.

So when:

  • A man coughs loudly next to me without covering his mouth.

We teach children to cover their mouths here.

  • A man exhales smoke near me, and drops the butt on the ground.

Excuse me sir! You seem to have dropped something! (Pointing at it on the ground like I’m helping him out)

  • Man yells, “That’s MINE!”, when you’re reading a pickup ticket.

People with manners say, “A different way to say that would be to say, ‘I think that might be mine’.”

And if I’m feeling froggy there are more pointed versions of these.

  1. “Is that acceptable behavior where you come from? We think it’s rude here.”

  2. “Question for you: why did you just litter? No, really, I’m genuinely curious.”

  3. “This can’t be yours. The ticket doesn’t say ASSHOLE.”

I was real close to doing that last one today with super-cool-guy who thought I was after his order. I unfortunately didn’t come up with the joke fast enough, and also hadn’t fully decided on the philosophical justification of this approach.

But being a dick in return is not really necessary. What’s necessary is calling people out for being overtly rude. For disrespecting everyone around them. For not caring one bit about the society they live in.

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And I’m all about exceptions. I tend not to get all that upset with kids, for example. Teenagers even. Most people are inconsiderate when they’re that age. Most grow out of it.

But if you’re over 30—a grown adult—and you cough on people’s food, litter indiscriminately, spit on the sidewalk in front of everyone, having an absurdly loud phone conversation in a coffee shop, etc., you deserve to be called on it.

No. It’s not that they deserve to be called out on it—it’s our responsibility to call them out on it.

You know that feeling that you have when it’s happening, where you WANT to say something, or you wish someone else would say something, but you don’t?

That’s the problem.

The only solution is to declare, as a society, that we don’t find such behavior acceptable. If we want a polite society, then society must reject rudeness. It’s that simple.

It’s not you responding. It’s society. You are but a little soldier saying, “No sir, we don’t allow that sort of thing in this town.”


So I’m thinking about doing my part in this, as a policy. And I invite you to consider it for yourself as well.

I also invite you to tell me why I’m a horrible person for thinking this way. Either way is good.


  1. First, for anyone thinking about doing this, don’t do it if it could result in an altercation. People who are likely to get aggressive or violent probably have enough of their own problems and aren’t going to be corrected by some sas. It’s not worth it. Plus, if you had their life you’d probably be a shmuck too.

  2. Remember that this should be for major, obvious infractions, like the ones mentioned. People who try to comment on every little thing aren’t defending basic norms; they’re pushing their own values and becoming part of the problem themselves.

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