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Most conversations I have start with “Hey what’s up?” One time I forgot to ask someone what was up and the person on the other end of the conversation ended up getting quite upset at me. I find that more often than not I don’t even answer the question honestly. “Oh, I just took a shit” or “I’m eating as usual…what the fuck else would I be doing?” morphs into “Oh, you know, nothing much.” Does the person on the other end actually want to know what’s up? Rarely. I’m sure that some people are genuine in their asking, but usually we’re just going through the motions of using polite speech.
Polite speech rarely is meant literally. It tends to be used as a conversation starter or as content to keep a conversation alive. Considering we don’t use the phrases for what the words actually mean, what’s the point of using them to begin with? The biggest reason why is probably tradition. We’ve been trained into simply saying this stuff. Plus, we don’t want to come off as rude nor do we want to seem like we don’t care. However, let’s all be honest with ourselves and with the world for a moment. We don’t care. We don’t want to know what someone is doing every single time we ask. You telling me that you’re mowing your lawn or walking your dog or watching Netflix has zero impact on my day. We should mean what we say and say what we mean.
Clearly, I don’t think polite speech holds much value, if any, in today’s society. If I were president (and in an election year like this, who knows! Maybe I could be come January 20th, 2017!), I would sign an executive order banning all polite speech unless you are one hundred percent genuine. If you as me how I am and you don’t care, you will be sentenced to “polite speech probation” and will have to apologize to me. Any political candidate who wishes to take up this proposal (I’m looking at you Donald!) is asked to get in touch with my people so we can work out a deal (I know you’re super great at those!).
While polite speech is kind of useless, we have other fish to fry. As we’ve seen the advances of technology, our words mean even less, when they should be meaning more. We used to have to have a face-to-face conversation with someone. Then we could just call them. However, now, all we need are our fingertips in order to get in touch with others. Texting was the beginning but it’s morphed into social media, a mass network of communication that can span the globe. Posting things on social media gives us a huge audience to use our voices for good. However, far too often, we’re using it for purposes even more useless than polite speech: posting things for Retweets, Likes, and attention. Beyond that, sometimes we don’t even think about what we’re posting, leading to cyber bullying. Both are far worse than useless phrases like “Let’s get in touch!” if you ask me.
If we’re looking at how to be polite, let’s hold doors and chew with our mouths closed rather than say things that we don’t even mean. While I would argue that polite speech holds little to no value in today’s conversations, I’d also say that it’s become quite ingrained. We’re trained to use these phrases to seem nice and caring when we actually aren’t. The most important place to direct our conversations to is a place of meaning what we’re saying. This is a lesson that would wipe out polite speech, yes, but it would also solve plenty of other communication issues we have as a society.
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