Proud to be Polite

Harriet: “Where would you like to eat?”
Polly: “Wherever you want.”
Harriet: “Wendy’s?”
Polly: “Sure, sounds good!”

And off they go, Harriet excited about the place at which they’ve chosen to eat, and Polly not nearly so thrilled. From the conversation alone, it seems that both parties are happy with dining at Wendy’s, but Polly has kept her true feelings hidden. Polly was hoping for anything other than a fast-food burger/sandwich joint, but, to avoid disappointing her friend, she has readily agreed to eat at just such a place. Polly would probably argue that her actions are a result of politeness. Oh sure, perhaps she’s too polite. Perhaps she lets people walk all over her sometimes, but it’s all because she’s sooo nice. Nice to a fault, as some might say…

But what might others say? That Polly is a liar? The case could certainly be made, but would it merely prove a desecration of her altruism? Or is Polly really acting selflessly to begin with? Could it be that Polly’s “politeness” is selfishness in disguise? Could it be that Polly’s willingness to eat at Wendy’s is a sign of pride?

I struggle with being honest when it comes to making decisions that influence other people. I don’t want to let people down, and I genuinely believe that Polly could have a similar motive. But, when we “lie” in order to appease others, is our concern merely how that person will feel? Or are we trying to avoid feeling awkward ourselves? Are we seeking to give to the other person, or to prevent that person feeling less-than-pleased with us? I think that, in these situations, we are very often motivated by our own insecurities, rather than by the generosity or love we may feel for the other person. After all, don’t we already feel somewhat uncomfortable in those situations? And aren’t we trying desperately to limit the extent of that feeling when we seek to keep the other person happily oblivious? We employ dishonesty in order to preserve our friend’s momentary perspective of us as a good natured and jolly person to be around. But doesn’t that sound a bit like pride?

One might say that Polly prefers eating at Wendy’s to denying her friend the opportunity to do so. In that case, so the argument would go, Polly is making a genuine choice that correlates with her situational preferences. Thus, she is being honest. But this only holds if Polly sincerely feels there are only two options available to her—eating at Wendy’s or denying her friend’s happiness. But nobody can rationally assume this, and the same goes for all of the trivial, day-to-day examples that I wish to call into question. Sure, there’s a time for self-sacrifice, but to claim that an instance of choosing where to eat (or what movie to see, etc., etc.) is such a time is ludicrous. And so it seems we pushovers have to admit, sometimes we’re just too prideful to stick up for ourselves.


amie-j said...

Good point BennyK! I used to feel "picked on" because I felt that I never got to do the things I wanted to do.

Then one day I realized it. The only reason for not doing "my" thing was simply that it was easier for me to go with the flow than to say what I actually wanted to do.

But Why? Because I had the perception that no one would want to do my stuff. I had convinced my self that by expressing my opinion, I would create conflict.

This perception was not based on fact. I made it up! So I would deny myself something, then resent someone else for it, all the while, the resent-ee was unaware that I even had an issue. Not only did I resent someone else for my own actions, I would build my self up for sacrificing my own wishes to keep the peace.

That’s not keeping peace. That’s destroying peace. Keeping the peace would have been to discuss the issue and come to an agreement. Not withholding my opinion and then punishing someone else for it! Looking back, I think that is sinful on many levels.

Sinful and silly.

JoAnna said...

Wow... so I know this was written a long time ago, but it's a nice coincidence that I would read it today. Amie-j, don't take this the wrong way, but you sound just like me!
I really do try to not be like that with people I care about, because it's not fair to them and it does build up resentment that they are not even aware of. But gosh it's hard sometimes. Sometimes, I give in to other people's wishes, selflessly sacrificing my own desires, without even realizing it. And you know what? It is selfish. It kind of puts the other person in a position where they have to make all the decisions and try to please you without ever knowing what you want (but I guess, they aren't like us and don't feel that way or they wouldn't be making all the decisions in the first place). But, I do kinda feel sorry for my guy when I'm feeling all emotional and what it really comes down to is I can't stick up for myself; I can't express myself. This last week has been a good example of that.
Anyway, I'm past due here I suppose, but thanks for what you guys said. I needed to think about that today.

The Damsel said...

JoAnna's past due? Ha! Well I have decided I don't believe in altruism-Christ gave the ultimate sacrifice so we could live better lives and even that was out of love. (I don't believe love is altruism either, as often the idea of not serving said loved one is just as painful to the self.) So if one decides she will put up with going to Wendy's because her friend truly wants to go and she would like to make her friend happy, that is not true altruism either. But really, what is the goal of being polite? Is it to gain a sense of altruism? This goal is impossible-what of the satisfaction of reaching it? Is it to make the other person happy? Then how would charming people function in society? I would argue that the purpose of politeness is to maintain social order-in which case, is it less polite to say "Wendy's is alright-but would you be up for Crown Burger?"

mudder said...

Interesting...the dates on these comments. So I am putting my own in here. The foremost reason I give in is simply that it's easier. Also, I get very uncomfortable oft times when I get my own way. It makes me worry about the other person and how she's feeling and that can be bothersome enough that I would just rather go the other way. I guess I was raised to be like that. And most times, it really doesn't matter to me.