One of those life-lesson moments came when a fellow entered my father’s store and, out of the blue, launched into a Sherwin-Williams “We-Cover-the-World” attack on everyone and everything he disliked in the city, county, state and nation.
He was specific and named names. I was amazed that one man could be so full of vitriol and talk for so long without spouting off one profane word. It was a wonder to behold.
Driving home that evening I asked Dad what he thought of our orator. At first he didn’t respond. Then, slowly and quietly, he said, “Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion, but a gentleman knows when to keep it to himself. That man was no gentleman.”
Well, that wasn’t any fun. Once again, Dad was being dull, demoralizing and, worst of all, nice.
But then, niceness was held in high esteem in Minnesota. Parents didn’t warn their children to be careful, but to “be nice.” Even the big 50,000-watt clear channel radio station proclaimed themselves as the “Good Neighbor to the Northwest.”
I was listening on my computer to the station the other morning, and 50 years later they still invite listeners to submit nominations for the daily “Good Neighbor” whose name will be entered into the archives.
Being nice was drilled into us from all sides: church and Sunday school, Scouts, school, even the public library. Librarians didn’t shuss us; they held an index finger over their lips and mouthed, “Be nice; others are reading.”
All of that came to mind recently when I overheard a couple taking one verbal potshot after another about specific politicians and their party. They went on about how they could not stand being in the same room with those party members. It was almost as if they were double-dog daring anyone to disagree with them. As I moved on, I could almost hear my father saying, “They’re no gentlemen.”
He would have said it the other day when I was in a checkout line at a store. A young fellow about my age was purchasing using cash. Behind him stood a couple who were put out because he wasn’t using plastic, and vented their anger by making a few disparaging remarks about “boomers” cluttering up the environment, slowing down the line and making the poor clerk “like, actually make change.”
There seems to be a rise lately in name-calling, mocking and belittling. I don’t know if it comes from the top and is oozing down, or the top is a mirror reflection of the grass roots. Not that it really matters. It’s just not the behavior of a gentleman or -woman.
If we don’t turn this around, we will dig ourselves into a hole from which we cannot get out. Nothing says we all have to agree on everything, but that doesn’t preclude being nice to each other.
As Mother would say, looking over the top of her glasses, “You be nice or I’ll turn your nose to 12!”