By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Dying art of polite conversation
Placeholder Image

He seemed a nice enough of a young man.

He was efficient at his job and outwardly pleasant.

But it wasn't until I said thank-you after swiping my debit card for the purchase that he spoke.

It was a pleasant "you're welcome."
I was a tad taken aback thinking that such a pleasant, young man might be mute which would explain why not a word had been spoken throughout the entire transaction until I said "thank-you."

I walked away thinking about what my grandmother once said about how we were becoming a nation of lost souls. To her, the brink of the 1960s was a disturbing time when letter writing went to the wayside and even chats on the porch with friends or over the back fence with neighbors started becoming obsolete by the forward march of the high-tech gadget known as a telephone.

One could only wonder what Grandma Towle would think of today's world where the typewritten word on a screen is now nudging out even talking to another human over the phone as the preferred form of engaging in substantial conversation.

Grandma wouldn't blame the technology. She'd blame people who were just plain lazy.

It's laziness that has led to a world slightly more impolite with each passing year. Polite conversation isn't dead but it is safe to say it could easily go the way of the manual typewriter to become a quaint form of communication that has a spot reserved for it at the Smithsonian Institute.

Some of us might grumble about the lack of people skills among many young people entering the workforce but I beg to differ.

The blame lies with you and me.

As I stood in line, I noticed no one else was engaging the clerk in polite conversation. The people ahead of me were older yet they seemed resigned to the fact that the art of polite conversation went the way of the dodo bird.

I would argue it is the adults who are letting younger people down. The art of polite conversation isn't something that simply evolves. It takes active engagement.

Sure, we like to mutter about "parents" and make that generational slam better known as "kids these days" and a host of other sharp, verbal observations.

But if the truth be known, we are all at fault for the general decline of civility.

Road rage? Not a problem it we all turn the world into an impersonal place where everyone has a sour demur inside a private little world wrapped in steel, urethane and glass in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It's not too hard to cut someone off if we don't have to engage them as fellow humans.

Rudeness? If the only role models offered in the "real world" are the cutting edge sarcasm of drama on TV, in the movies and music what else do we expect from the next generation?

But blaming Hollywood, Howard Stern or some obnoxious rap star is classic buck passing.

We are all making it easy for others to disconnect from the world.

The most pleasant 15 minutes I've spent in the past month was standing in line at a store.

There was a kid nearby making the kind of noise only a 5-year-old boy can do. A gentleman that probably wasn't much older than 70 made a comment, I said something and soon we had an honest-to-goodness conversation going.

We weren't talking politics, religion, about IPOs or whether the 49ers were a train wreck. It was what once might have been called idle talk. Then a woman behind him joined in. It was a delightful diversion to the numbness of standing in line.

It continued as we reached the cash register where the clerk was a little more than harried. The cashier got caught up in it. She didn't miss a beat. She did the usual stuff - rang up the purchase, told me the total, bagged the merchandise, took our money and gave us our change.

It was 180 seconds of pleasant conversation tagged on to the end of a politely engaging 15-minute chat.

There was a time when it was normal for clerks and strangers to engage each other in polite conversation.

It's something that young people aren't going to find out about on TV, on the Internet or listening to the latest iPod releases.

It is something they will discover only if older people make an effort to go out of their way.

The next time I go into the store I'm not going to wait for the clerk to acknowledge me or even see if he tells me the total before I note it on the cash register display.

You can't expect young people to politely try to connect on their own. It takes two to tango unless, of course, you are perfectly content on having muted conversations with yourself.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.


dennis mug