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Posted at 12:08 PM ET, 02/24/2011

From Gaddafi to Walker, why you should never be polite

By Alexandra Petri

There's nothing more dangerous than politeness.

Sure, other things are risky - walking backwards to lead a tour in an area you're not familiar with, being Charlie Sheen, being a white powdered substance in Charlie Sheen's home.

But I'd rather do any of those things than go through life these days and try to be polite.

Politeness is yet another of those non-adaptive behaviors that people mistakenly encourage in your youth, like being humble or flossing regularly. Only six people in the continental United States floss regularly. Their gums look fantastic, but no one invites them anywhere.

I would give you an example of a polite person who is successful, but the only one I can come up with is Ryan Seacrest, and really, who wants to emulate him? Even Ryan Seacrest has been unsuccessfully trying to be someone else for the past eight years, although no one knows quite who.

Meanwhile, rude people get far. Moammar Gaddafi once went up to David Ignatius, "stopped about a foot from my face and stared at me with bulging, bloodshot eyes. Then he shouted something in Arabic to his aides and bolted from the room, never to return." And he is still in charge of Libya at the time of this writing.

Winston Churchill was famously rude. He once reportedly hit a butler. The butler hit him back, and Churchill was appalled. "You hit me first," the butler said. "Yes, but I am a great man," Churchill responded.

That's the attitude, these days. We're all great! Why be polite? As Kanye rapped, "You should be honored by my lateness/That I would even show up at this lame [redacted]!" Being polite means being considerate of the feelings of others. What feelings? Others are just fuzzy automatons who might join your Facebook fan page.

Why hold doors? If the person you're holding the door for is a woman, she might think that you subscribed to antiquated notions of gender roles and chase you for several blocks screaming, "MISOGYNIST!"

Why shake hands firmly and look people in the eye? That only makes people worry that you are trying to run for office.

Why be polite on the telephone? The person on the other end could turn out to be the editor of the Buffalo Beast, record the whole conversation, and post it online, where dozens of bloggers would mistake your politeness for backroom collusion.

Offer old men your seat on the metro? They might be wanted for committing a series of murder-suicides back in the '70s! Show up places on time? That might make people think you thought your time was less important than theirs.

We've so obliterated all forms of politeness from our collective consciousness that someone had to post a list of translations of common expletive-laden expressions online. Want to tell someone "What the [f-word]?" Try "That's interesting."

But have we thought where this might lead?

Polite people don't cut in line. Polite people don't whip out their cell phones in the middle of dinner with you and laugh to themselves, then put them back in their pockets. Polite people don't talk during movies.

Polite people know which fork to use, and when they are at dinners with more than three different sizes of fork, don't fashion them into fork headdresses and chase you around the table making lip-farts. Polite people definitely do not appear on Jersey Shore.

As a society, we idolize rudeness. Rudeness is what has gotten us where we are, wherever that is.

These days, everyone has to try very, very hard to seem as important as possible. The best way to do that is to be rude and inconsiderate. If you are successful, someone will probably wander over and give you an MTV series. No wonder people are always dropping doors on me and refusing to take my calls.

After all, the essence of politeness is to make it seem that you are interested in the other person and think that she is more important than you are. That's a liability. If you do a good enough job of that, she might unfollow you on Twitter!

By Alexandra Petri  | February 24, 2011; 12:08 PM ET
Categories:  Bad Advice, Epic Failures, Petri, Worst Things Ever  | Tags:  America, kids these days, oops, politeness  
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