Traverse City Record-Eagle

Evelyn Petersen: Ask Evelyn

September 3, 2011

Ask Evelyn: Good manners create ripples of kindness

Q: I don’t think it’s just the kids that have no manners; it’s their parents. So many adults are continually modeling disrespect of others’ needs, feelings or concerns. Is it possible that the distancing caused by using text and email instead of face-to-face conversations is making this worse? — J.M.

A: I agree that the distancing that comes hand in hand with electronic media makes people more self-absorbed and less conscious that others are real people who can be adversely affected by their behavior.

I also agree that we can easily see examples of rude behavior around us every day, from drivers on the road to people in checkout lines or lines or at public events. But we can also see polite and generous behaviors when we try. There are many who will let us into a car lane we are waiting for, or who will let you go ahead of them in line if you only have a few groceries.

What worries me most is the people who are talking on a cellphone while driving and who are oblivious of others on the road; they are so self-absorbed they have no idea of their potential danger to others. I’ve also seen people drive boats and Jet Skis in an erratic or dangerous manner, totally ignoring boating safety rules, putting both swimmers and wildlife in danger.

But what can we do about it; that’s the question. It’s going to take more than complaining to each other.

We need to make the effort to stand up for good citizenship and our community; we need to take the time to try to get license numbers or boat numbers and report irresponsible behavior to the police or marine patrol at the sheriff’s office. If we have new neighbors who seem unaware, we can try to be welcoming and friendly, but we can also give them information about the community that they may need.

If someone stops their car in an inappropriate place on the road, we might see if they need help. If someone finishes pumping gas but then sits in the car for five minutes instead of pulling forward, we might, instead of being angry and tooting the horn, get out of our car and ask if that person is all right or if they need help. If you just go over and explain why you need them to move forward, they’re likely to say, “That’s not my problem.” But that’s just it. This whole issue about rudeness and manners IS our problem; it’s a problem we all own.

If others are driving way too slow for us on roads quite familiar to us, maybe we could take some deep breaths and relax and hope they are enjoying our beautiful scenery. These may all be small things, but we need to start somewhere. Remember that Martin Luther King said that if we do a small thing to create good it’s like tossing a small pebble into the water. It creates rings that grow larger and encompass much more than we can perceive.

Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at

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