Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Is courtesy dead?

Every time I visit a medical facility and find I am treated more like a number than a person, when I notice I am not addressed by name and that the chart or electronic record seems more important than I am, I wonder if basic courtesy is dying.

How rare it is to be called "Mr. Schiffhorst" anywhere or "sir," even by servers in restaurants. Of course, you might say I have a difficult name,  but when an eye technician or dermatology aide calls me nothing and says very little in what is essentially an intimate situation, I am amazed.

The topic of politeness came to my attention recently with a piece in the NYTimes by Molly Worthen, who writes mainly about careless emails and academic rudeness.  As a college professor, she is shocked that so many students call her by her first name and/or fail to send carefully edited email messages, both signs of disrespect.  All too often, she says, the informal practices of text messaging carry over into emails, which can be insulting in their lack of care: they often are unsigned and lack any sign of proofreading.

She notes that women and minorities are more and more demanding these days that students know how to address them (this used to be taken for granted). As a man, I was always Professor (or Dr.) Schiffhorst to the students at the university but didn't mind being called "Mr."  Has our culture become so casual it is now disrespectful? Or is it the many students simply fail to see that their informality is insulting to professionals?

Worthen reports that students at elite schools are often worse offenders in these matters of academic protocol than those at state schools. Is that what we call entitlement? Or is it that the young, female, possible Asian or African American instructor is an object of prejudice?

Note to students and others: it is not elite to be polite, to try to use the person's last name or academic title; it is not cool to dash off a message to an instructor via email that's full of errors. It shows basic lack of the human respect that we all deserve.  

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