Be Less Polite

Image: Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

The nicest thing you can say to your friend is “Fuck you!” Not when you’re actually mad, but when you’re goofing around and they just got you good, and you’re acknowledging that yeah, you’re owned. That “fuck you” says “We are in a circle of trust and intimacy, and because of this we do not need to be polite.”

“Polite” is good, it’s how strangers and acquaintances and fellow professionals keep things running smoothly. But it has limits. To be polite is to maintain distance. It’s the tiny apologies we whisper when we accidentally brush against a stranger. It’s the “dear” that starts an email and the “sincerely” that closes it. It’s the invasive questions we don’t ask during small talk.

Dropping the politeness is an honour. It doesn’t mean being a dick. It means you trade “hello” for “hey.” You pee with the door open and you poop when your partner’s at home. You ask “Are you two planning to have children?” because you’re close friends and they could ask the same of you. You let them pick up the check sometimes.

It doesn’t mean you start being a dick — no, it means you’re nicer to the other person. All the pretences you drop, they drop too. You let them ask you nosy questions. You let them impose. You still respect them, but now you also bring them closer.

CD Baby founder Derek Sivers calls it being meta-considerate. Being considerate, he says, means showering someone with attention and gifts to win their love. Being meta-considerate means treating them like your much-beloved equal, letting them chase you back.

There’s a balance, of course; there’s always a balance. Sometimes your friend is actually too rude, sometimes you misunderstand your relationship, sometimes you forget to check for cues and you embarrass yourself. That’s life, that’s the basis of every sitcom, that’s the dance we all play. Would that we could all be perfect rationalists or a Star Trek planet of involuntary telepaths. And it is a dance, to follow and lead — to be the first to bring a toothbrush to their place, to crack the first “my kids suck” joke to your fellow parents, to join in on the roast in the group chat.

You can even be meta-considerate to strangers. You can break through the polite silence to crack a joke or compliment them. Anything that bends normal etiquette so that you can do something nice. Hitting on a stranger, criticising them, or getting way too nosy is not meta-considerate.

Pointing out a shortcut or waving hello to their baby is meta-considerate. Personally I think it’s meta-considerate to not say “bless you,” but I recognise that I’m ahead of my time.

You can also pay attention to the difference between “technically polite” — like letting pedestrians ahead of your car even when you have the right of way — and “practically polite” — like following the normal traffic rules so no one has to enter a weird “no, after you!” stand-off at the crosswalk.

And every so often, you can be really nice to your friends, and tell them, “Fuck you!” Adjust, of course, to your comfort level.


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