11 March 2024

Your attention is most kindly requested.

            I often read in the newspaper that there’s been a general erosion in common civility.  That may be true, since why argue with sociological studies and the finely tuned antennas of our media watch dogs, ever alert for any diminishment in our quality of life.  

            But I just don’t see it.  That is, I rarely suffer this during my day-to-day undertakings.  In fact, I think people are mostly more congenial and sociable than they used to be.  It could be that since I now have white hair they take pity on me and my declining faculties, and express greater kindness than I experienced as a young man.  Maybe I’m now more convivial myself, and get rewarded by a response in kind.  I’m willing to accept these variables as suggesting I’m all wrong.

            Though still not be convinced. 

            It might be that social media interactions are larded with terribly disrespectful and aggressive behaviors, and that has warped our perception of the overall state of public comportment.  Since I participate in social media only glancingly, and then only with friendly people I know, I never confront such conduct.  If I did I’d tell the offenders, in the nicest way possible, to stick it in their ears and never communicate with them again.

              It helps to have a dog.  Only the hardest heart can resist our terrier’s charms.  He elicits good feelings from every version of human being, irrespective of socio-economic standing, race, creed, orientation or nationality.  We once had a motorcycle gang cooing over our pups, comparing notes on healthy diets and grooming strategies.  I think foreigners first learn our language by saying “Hello.”, “How much?”, “Where’s the bathroom?” and “Cute dog!”  We’re the fortunate beneficiaries of this canine charisma, since much of it seems to rub off. 


            I’ve been to Ireland and Australia, countries that have set the English-speaking gold standard for full-throated cheerfulness and good will toward any and all.  By contrast, I live in New York and New England, who many contend occupy the other end of the spectrum.  But this isn’t really fair.  New Yorkers are actually quite friendly and garrulous, it just feels like they’re shouting at you.  You have to tune your ears to the right pitch.  

            New Englanders are taciturn and reserved, it’s true, though get them started on a favorite subject, like the Patriots’ defensive line or the best route from Cambridge to Logan Airport, and they’ll talk your head off.   You do have to make more of an effort to engage a New Englander, unlike a person from almost anywhere else in the country.  If all you say at the check out line is “thank you” as they bag the groceries, don’t expect much.  If they ask, “How are you today?” give them a broadside of jolly commentary on your current state of being.  Even include a complaint or two, delivered with the sort of rueful irony that invites commiseration.


            “Could be sunnier.”


            “Yeah, but we need the rain.  My Roma tomatoes just lap that stuff up.  And the zucchinis?” 

“Don’t I know it.”


             I used to drive the Massachusetts Turnpike all the time, and before they did away with the toll gates, there was one guy so irredeemably buoyant and busting with bon homme that a line would form at his booth. 


            “There’s your change, sir.  One dollar and thirty-five cents.  Buy yourself something fun!”



            Mindful of our brief here at Sleuth Sayers, I do have a way to link this happy state of affairs to writing fiction.  If you only follow the observations of our gloomy journalists and academics, you’ll not only feel enduringly depressed, you’ll deviate from your lived experience.  You’ll break the law of authenticity.  The world isn’t a disagreeable place, most of the time.  Genuine assholes are notable simply because they’re so rare. 

                Writing hardboiled crime novels is no excuse.  Even Humphrey Bogart (channeling Marlowe) said, "I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners.  I don't like ‘em myself.”



  1. Chris, I work at doing my part. Travelling for business, living overseas, living in the South, managing employees, consulting for Disney… these forces have come together to encourage me to be politer, to show ever more respect, and… be civil. At least I try!

  2. This is true, Chris. Most people want to enjoy their day, and most want pleasant encounters with others. I think most of the people who really want to get into it go online and vent at the first person they read...

  3. Definitely, social media allowing anonymous comment has increased bad behaviour. I'm not positive, but it seems to be more of a 'gender' thing - certainly, women are trolled more than men, online. I've left Twitter for that reason. I was scared by the things men were saying to me. And even more scared by the fact that other men online didn't condemn them.

    1. In addition to being misogynistic, these assholes are cowards, hiding behind the anonymity of social media. Sadly, it's revealed a lot about the nature of some human beings.

  4. Chris, your research is flawed because the social interactions among dog owners are of an entirely different, er, breed. Metaphorical tail wagging is the norm among humans accompanied by dogs—as you say, convivial and sociable.


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