So the other day I was thinking about what to talk about with my students and my brain suggested "why it's important to be polite". After that popped up, I immediately interrogated the thought with another question, which was "is it important to be polite?" followed by "what is politeness? How is it different from respect? Why does society value politeness?" I explored it within my own brain and below are some of the thoughts that I was able to scrape up. Mind you, I am no authority in this matter. I didn't even bother googling it, showing you how much of a pemalas I am. So take and leave from it what you will.
I think that at the core of my understanding of politeness is respect, and because I already talked to my students about respect, I didn't want to be redundant. If we already have respect as a concept, why was politeness a necessary concept to introduce into our language and our understanding of the world?
When I think about respect and politeness, I think they're similar but not the same. Respect comes with it a certain gravitas that I can't quite put my finger on. It's about recognising other people as equal human beings and treating them the same way one would want to be treated. When I think about politeness, I think about people being submissive, silent in the background, and about conforming to other people's expectations of you, like the respect you have for the other party exceeds the amount of respect you have for yourself. This may be a flawed interpretation, but it's the way I understand it, so I'll run with it for this piece.
To address the next question of why society places a high value on politeness, I could only think that over the years, the concept of politeness has become a socially constructed tool used to maintain the status quo. It is desirable for a parent to maintain the position of power they have over their child, so the child has to be polite towards the parent, and if they're polite, they're good, because then the status quo is maintained and parenting becomes a less difficult task. Teachers desire a certain amount of control over their students, so a polite student is desirable because it makes the teacher's job easier, and the status quo is maintained.
So people in positions of power expect people in positions of less power to be polite to them, and people in positions of less power expect their peers to be polite to their "superiors". That's the way it's supposed to be, and the way it should always be. It's interesting to me that the concept of politeness is used commonly as a tool to help in power relations.
It is rarely expected of people in positions of power in the relationship to be polite. The person who is supposed to be polite is always the child, the employee, the student, the person in the less powerful position. If a boss is polite to an employee, the boss is hailed as a humble person of the people. If they're impolite, then they're just being a boss. Being polite is, however, is expected of the employee. If they don't abide to the socially accepted rules of politeness, then they're considered as being rude and vulgar.
After typing it out, I hope you understand why I was reluctant to talk to my students about politeness. I ended up talking to them about honesty instead, a much easier value to get behind, in my opinion.
I hope I don't come off as condemning people who value politeness. I try to be polite whenever I can. I was raised to be a polite person, and given the chance, I try to make the people around me feel as comfortable as they can. I'm always on the lookout for social cues as to what peoples' expectations of me might be, and even though I'm really bad at doing that, I do at most if not all times try to come off as a respectful and polite person. It's become a habit of my being, I guess. But intellectually, those are my thoughts on the concept of politeness.
I may be completely wrong about the subject, but at the moment, this is what I think of it. If you feel differently about it, please drop a comment telling me off.
All the while I was reading this post, I kept thinking of kindness.. Maybe what's more important (imo) is that how to translate the respect we have to others ? By being kind or polite ? Is it different? Maybe in our culture that's the way it goes with polite, but in my humble opinion, kindness is what matters more ?
Goodluck with your endeavours
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