The Golden Rule – maybe just optional now?

We’ve been off-line the last couple of weeks while we’ve been traveling around Europe and now I’ve got a bunch of blog posts to catch up on (plus a whole lot of photos of cool things to show you). But first, a rant that’s been brewing for a while… something that really, really, really irritates me. And I’m sure it does for many of you too.

The more I’ve traveled around the world in recent years, the more I’ve become dismayed by how people treat each other.

There’s an age-old maxim called The Golden Rule which basically states that you should behave towards other people in the way you’d like them to behave towards you. All major religions have famous sayings that encapsulate this ethic of reciprocity, and it’s mentioned as early as 1800BC in a set of rules from ancient Babylon, so the idea pre-dates most major religions too. You can read more about it in this wikipedia link. It all really boils down to: be nice to people.

I’ve watched civility steadily being eroded over the last few years until now it’s at the point where people are often pointedly rude to absolute strangers. How can this be? Maybe I’m old fashioned or in a minority and I’m not moving with the times, but I’m sure the times should not be moving towards a society where people don’t abide by the basic rules of civility: say please and thank-you and consider other people around you. I guess it’s a product of everyone being in a rush, feeling more important than others, and feeling somehow entitled to service or response without having to be civil to the one they expect service or a response from.

Some examples:

  • At breakfast this morning in the hotel, I stood waiting while the chef cooked my eggs, and everyone who walked up while I was waiting neither said please nor thank-you to the chef, and some almost demanded what they wanted.
  • Again this morning, an elevator opened on the ground floor, full of people, with a woman standing in front of the door with a suitcase. One businessman behind her pushed passed her to get out of the elevator first.
  • At Heathrow on the way over from Germany, we came down an elevator and people pushed onto the elevator while we were still trying to come out with bags (this is *so* common while traveling).
  • On the flight from Germany to Heathrow at the weekend, a small child was sitting behind Kimberly, kicking her chair and then reaching through between the seats and grabbing Kimberly. When Kimberly turned around to politely ask the child not to do that, the mother became indignant and said Kimberly must not have kids because that’s just the way 3-year olds behave.
  • On an overnight flight from the US to Europe a few months ago, a child was allowed to run around the cabin, shout and generally behave obnoxiously, with no intervention from the mother.

(Edit 5/23/2015:

After being accused on Twitter of implying above that only mothers should be responsible for controlling children, I’ll clarify my final two examples above by saying that in both cases the only adult on the plane with the child was the mother. It’s really a stretch to think I was implying only mothers bear that responsibility.


People really shouldn’t try to read into what people say things that they don’t like, and then call out that jumped-to conclusion publicly.

End Edit)

The list goes on and on. The last two are particularly indicative in my mind of part of the problem these days – lack of instilling the notions of civility and acceptable behavior in children as they grow up, and the belief that everyone should tolerate children’s inconsiderate behavior because they’re just children. Adult behavior is very much a product of upbringing IMHO.

And of course it spills over into work life too. How many of you have had to deal with belligerent or rude co-workers, managers, or clients? Why should you have to?

Email is the worst though – it’s so easy to omit civilities. It’s become so prevalent now that if I get a random request for help in email that doesn’t say please or thanks, I just delete it right away… no civility, no help.

Take a look around you next time you travel, or take notice during your work day – you’ll be amazed at how uncivil we’ve become as a society.

But please make sure you’re not part of the problem. Thank you.


45 thoughts on “The Golden Rule – maybe just optional now?

  1. Hi Paul,

    First off all I couldn’t agreed more with you.
    My believe is that people think that if someone is civilized to the others they give the impression that they are inferior to that person, special to strangers, so they act with arrogance to give the impression they are superior.

    best regards,
    Vitor Pombeiro

  2. I could not agree with you more, drivers have no manners any more, shop assistantas don’t care and everybody is in a rush. It all started to go downhill when the RAC & AA patrolmen stopped saluting members ;-)

  3. My sentiments exactly. I was born and raised in South Africa where we were brought up relatively strictly at home and in school. It was not just discipline but respect for others and especially your elders, so much so that if you speak to someone that you estimate is more or less 10 years your senior then you would not dare call them by first name or "You" but rather call them uncle or aunt, I guess it is similar to the Americans using sir and mam. Since moving to the UK I have been shocked by lack of respect and discipline especially from the younger generation, and no I’m not old I’m only 27. Also many people behave like animals when it comes to getting onto buses and trains. To be fair I have mainly noticed this in London, the few times I have been further out of London it gets remarkably better. Now I don’t think it is due to the rushed culture of London, as most of this behaviour I spot is caused by foreigners. Being a foreigner myself but blending in with the British society I understand why people in London despise tourists and foreigners, it is because of their behaviour and disregard for everyone else. This is not just a few people, I think it is a generational and global culture forming and unfortunately I would not witness the end of this. All we can do is to one day raise our kids the proper way and teach them respect and the so called "Golden Rule" from a young age and hopefully this horrible culture will change for the better. </rant>

  4. I place a large fraction of the cause at the feet of the almightly television. So much junk, especially ‘confrontational’ crap like most of the reality shows. How many shows on TV these days, or how many movies, really portray positive values? And so many parents use TV as a way to avoid having to interact with their children too.

  5. Great post – I feel much the same as you do.

    The commuter trains implemented "quiet cars," a few weeks ago. I’ve been using them I’ve become insanely frustrated with the one or two folks who continue to disregard the rules and disrespect their fellow passengers. Even more frustrating is that the conductor won’t correct the behavior. I’ve asked two different offenders to show a little respect and follow the rules of the Quiet Car, only to be scorned.

    Were people always like this?

  6. I’m going to have to agree with you. Especially on the parenting part. I’m the father of a 4 year old and a 6 month old. When my 4 year old son does something like that 3 year old, I make a point of apologizing to the other person for his behavior and correcting my son. Yes, children are like that and will do something considered uncivil or impolite, but that’s the opportunity for the parent to teach them!

  7. Oh dear, the grumpy Scott is coming out Paul – Kimberly beware!


    Note – the above is entirely said in jest!

    All the best, Tony.

  8. I’ve been noticing this same trend, and it’s never more obvious than when on a plane or, even more so, on a crowded cruise ship. People seem to have lost their sense of personal space or the comprehension that they’re not the only ones around them.

  9. I completely agree, especially with your opinion that it starts with childhood upbringing. I have 2 toddlers (2 and 4) who both say please and thank you the majority of the time. My wife and I started with the "What do you say?" prompts at a *very* early age for both of them, and it seems to be paying off.

  10. It is very sad how society has deteriorated just in my short time. I teach my children to say please and thank you for everything. Do not take anything or anyone for granted. I think, especially in the US, society has become so irresponsible that people fail to teach their children to respect one another and take responsibility for their actions.

    Very Sad Indeed.

  11. I’ll go out on a limb here, and make a bold statement: Rudeness is the inevitable outcome of prosperity.

    Now let me defend that statement. When things are difficult, we need others. We have to work together. And it is in this "forced encounter" that we find community. We overlook the differences we have, we tolerate, to get what we need. But when things are "good" – monetarily, or even just having enough entertainment in our own homes not to need to go outside and "play" with each other – we isolate ourselves, forming a "me-centric" world view.

    And that’s what we’re experiencing now. It’s actually not a loss of civility – it’s an increase of pride, of "me". I once heard a preacher say that at the center of "sin" is "I". :)

    So what is the remedy? Well, learning to live responsibly with prosperity is one step. A more drastic one is a crisis that pulls us together. The interesting bit is to evaluate our own lives to see which one we use mroe often. :)

  12. An interesting point Buck. However, I think their are alternatives to crisis to remind us to be responsible with our prosperity. The potential for crisis sometimes is enough. As the saying goes, "an armed society is a polite society." Less extreme, but just as real threats of repercussions would work just as well. Think of what we really mean by "commanding respect." At a base level it usually comes down to, don’t piss this guy off or he will beat the crap out of you.

    Robert Heinlein did a eerily good job of predicting this lack of politeness in what he called "the crazy years," but I don’t think he ever made the prosperity connection. It does make sense.

    Thanks for writing this Paul, and thank you Buck for sharing. I know I need a reminder to say please and thank you every once in a while.

  13. Paul, I totally agree. Here’s what I am doing about it.

    Teaching my children to be civil and polite.
    Acting with civility at all times. (Thanks to my parents this is second nature.)
    When I witness rude behavior I will support the target, often retail store staff, with a positive spoken comment. “Don’t let that crank get you down.” Sometimes other bystanders chime in too.

    I don’t think rude people should be tolerated and hope the rest of society will begin to speak up.

    Best regards,

  14. Paul, I completely agree with you…..especially on last 2 points related to children’s

    Helping children learn basic manners early will be an asset for them as they mature, will make them a better civilian and will benefit the society as a whole. However in reality it’s is easier said then done. A lot of efforts are required both from parents and school to educate them about appropriate behavior.

    And I’m already making some of those efforts with my lil one.

    Thanks so much for bringing up this thought….

    – Varun

  15. Hi Paul – it seems to me that that numbers 1 & 2 are rudeness – people not taking responsibility for their own actions. Are numbers 3 & 4 more a reflection on how you think parents should take responsibility for their children’s actions?

  16. Reminds me of a story my father told me. When he was in Admissions at a college, a young guy butted in line in front of him in a fast food place, and said something rude, like "heh, you’re old you can wait". Later that day the very same guy came to his office for an interview to attend the college, and man was he shocked. He immediately remembered what he said.

    My father let him in the college. He has always been a big believer in people growing and changing.

  17. I just got around to reading this post, but very much enjoyed it and all of the feedback. It has been a while, perhaps sometime last year, since my family and I were leaving a busy restaurant that had a crowd of different groups waiting to be seated. One couple had a little boy about 4 or 5 years old who was near the door and would hold it open for anyone going in or out. As I passed, I told him "thank you". His dad was then compelled to stop me and thank me as I was the only one so far out of many people who had bothered to politely greet this young gentleman who was thrilled to hold the door for others.
    Thank you, Paul, for giving us all this food for thought.

  18. I have a 2yo and an (almost) 4yo. No way do I allow them to be little heathens. Polite was how I was raised and it’s how my kids are being raised. At least when they’re with me, which is most of the time. They act very differently with their mom so they already know the difference between us. I hope my lessons stick with them though.

    I went to Paris for a business trip about 11 years ago. Parisians are notoriously impolite and I found that stereotype to be mostly true – from the concierge at the hotel to the average person on the street. What struck me as interesting was a middle-eastern man came up to me and asked me a question in broken French. When I told him I didn’t speak French, only English, his response was "Oh good! An American!" And we talked for a few minutes after I answered his very touristy question. Just 2 strangers from opposite sides of the world being nice and talking for a few minutes.

    This was pre-9/11 but it made me feel good to know that someone saw the people of the USA as "friendly".

  19. Golden Rule:

    "Do until others…"

    So if someone breaks into your house, don’t call the cops, they wouldn’t do that to you. If someone is trying to steal your car, don’t chase them… Golden Rule"

    Other than the golden rule part, I totally agree. People suck.

    Thanks for the post

  20. It’s important to learn good manners early. A book emphasizing good manners as well as the Golden Rule is The Magic Word by Sherrill S. Cannon. In a society full of bullying and self-centered children, it is helpful to teach your children the benefits of consideration for others and being polite. This book is a rhyming story of a little girl who was rude, selfish and demanding – and had very few friends. Her mother suggested that she needed to improve her manners; so when she went to school the next day, she thought of her mother’s advice, “What is the magic word?” and she started saying “Please” and also “Thank You”. She tried to become more thoughtful of others, and discovered that she was a much happier person. The repetitive use of the phrase “What is the magic word?” has children answering “Please”! One of the important lines in the story is “If you want to make friends, you must be polite and treat them the way that you know you would like”. That’s what the Golden Rule is all about

  21. I like Buck Woody’s comment about self-centeredness. And, it is indeed an inevitable fact. However, there is really nothing we can do about it. But there is something we can do about our response to these people. Stephen Covey advises to "Seek first to understand, then, be understood." I once heard of a story about a man with kids on the subway. The kids were very unruly and starting to annoy a lot of people on the train, yet, the man doesn’t seem to care about them. After getting off a stop, another man approached him and offered to buy him coffee. It was then that he understood. The man just lost his wife and the kids are having a hard time coping up with the loss. While we can’t do anything about how others behave, we can always do something about how we respond to these behavior

  22. Spot-on Paul. This is especially deflating when you go so far out of your way to help someone without so much as a thank you. It’s like you were reading my mind.

    With that said, thanks for doing everything that you do. You’re a tremendous resource.

  23. Exactly. I cannot even count how many times I have encountered this behavior, especially in the younger generation. The woman who made a comment about "you must not have children" really sparks me. I have children and that behavior is unacceptable at ANY age, whether it’s 3 or 23. Unfortunately, it’s not the child’s fault that their parents have not taught them respect and general manners. With their heads in video games (babysitters) all day, social skills have become a thing of the past. This disturbs me greatly as I cannot even imagine what this entails for our future as a society. I think you will find this a bit amusing: Our shopping mall just created a new rule, if your pants are below your underwear line you are not allowed in, HERE HERE. I still lack the neccessary mind set to understand how this is even remotely attractive. IDIOTS The elevator situation…well let’s just say rule of thumb…once the doors open, let everyone OUT first, then, allow the elderly, women and children to enter first. This is common elevator (or seating) etiquette. Thanks for the rant Paul…

  24. I couldn’t let this slide: "with no intervention from the mother" or father (or simply parents). ;)

    I for one am trying to instill manners in my kids. We take them to a free story time at a book store every Friday evening. There are typically about 20 kids there. We’ve been going since about February, and my son is the ONLY child who says thank you each week to the story reader. I’ve not once heard any other kid saying thank you. Shame on their parents. My daughter is too young to join him in the thanks, but she’ll be doing this as soon as we can teach her. The story reader even commented this past Friday how well-behaved our kids are, AND that she loves he says thank you every week and she recognizes that he is the only one who does it.

  25. Hi Paul,

    That’s a real problem nowadays.

    I’ve read about this problem, children without limits grow to be "adults" without limits so we see the same problems on adults and children, but the root of the problem is on the parents, where the children are just mirrors, because the next generation comes to work and evolve on the previous generation issues, and of course walk a little on the direction it chooses to walk.

    I have to say that in my country we have this problem too, specially the elevator one, but in general foreigners enjoy our hospitality.

    However I have to agree with Kim, Absent parents are and lack of social skills are on blame.

  26. First of all, great post, Paul. It’s so reasuring to see another adult professional in the world not only recognizing this troubling trend but voicing concern publicly as well. I was beginning to think I was just "old school" and simply had ideas about the way people should act that don’t fit any more.

    My biggest concern is one that may surprise you though. How can I raise my kids (9, 8 & 1yo) with the mantras of politeness, graciousness, humility and respect when it seems to be so contrary to the way most of the rest of their peers are growing up? The attitude of entitlement and rudeness and complete disregard is astoundingly prevalent to me, especially among young adults and kids. Has the current roster of parents out there simply decided that this is the attitude their kids must have to succeed? Maybe the expression of respect and graciousness has evolved to a sign of weakness.

    I’ve drilled into my kids the idea that whenever you want something say, "please" and whenever you get something say, "thank you". And to be courteous and respectful to everyone. Even though I know this is the right thing to do, I also know these are facets of their character that others will try to exploit to their advantage, and it’s going to be tough to try to explain to my kids why they need to be "nice" to others when "nice" barely exists any more.

  27. I was eating lunch at a fast-food restaurant a couple of months ago and a child around 2-3 years old was sitting in a high-chair. The floor (carpet) under and around the chair was covered with food and drink that the child had thrown on the floor. The parents finished eating, got up, and walked out of the restaurant. One of the people working there spent the next 45 minutes trying to clean it up (she was still cleaning when we left), and one of her co-workers who helped her for a few minutes made the comment "that’s just the way kids are". My repsonse – "No, that’s NOT the way kids are – that’s the way PARENTS are." I saw the exact opposite a week ago. An older (10’ish) child was tearing up his napkin into tiny pieces under the table and dropping the pieces onto the floor. When he and his father got up to leave, the father noticed the mess and made the child pick up every last piece.

    So while it seems hopeless sometimes (ok, most of the time) and I totally agree that people are getting ruder, at least there are people out there who care – just look at the number of people who have responded to this blog.

    As usual, thanks Paul for the thought-provoking posts – whether they are about SQL or not!

  28. I always try to be polite, but here’s another interesting trend: I’ve witnessed people mistreat others in the service industry, when the personnel being mistreated react the with a similar level of "rudeness" ie. refusing service or outright rudeness back, the offender usually gets quite upset and either becomes confrontational (which is subsequently ignored by the personnel) or storms off. Usually, but not always, several minutes later the rude person will come apologize for their behaviour.

    While it’s not behaviour I would partake in, I’ve found it interesting and enlightening.

    I think civility exists, but it gets buried under a thick layer of "entitlement".

  29. I just learned recently that the frontal lobe in the brain grows more connections as you grow older. These connections give you more control over your impulses.
    Not to justify anything, but this might explain why older people are more courteous and younger people more impulsive.

  30. *sigh*

    It makes you wonder…. Why people choose for the short term gains by being impolite, jumping the queues, or demand respect without putting up an effort first.

    My solution? I start by giving help, without asking, without expecting something in return and thus building credits. Some never repay, and i’m fine with that, it was my choiche to give (and stop giving), some get the wakeup call and repay my trust.

    I’m a believer in the principle of pay it forward, and overall i find it to repays more then i invest.

    It only takes a few good men to break the downward spiral. :)

  31. At least it isn’t just me that thinks something important is missing from todays new level of society. For me, the greatest issue Thomas highlighted in his list was not the one that showed we are all in a rush nowadays, but the one whereby a mother chose to attack the victim and not discipline her own child. What sort of example has that shown the child? And this is just one of a great many that I could personally describe.

    The fault is not the childs of course and that is true of most examples of this sort of behaviour. The fault belongs to the generation above, the ones that have forgotten the basic principals of discipline and manners that inherrently defines a person later in life.

    We as parents need to get our fingers out and help our children become the adults that our parents helped us to be.

  32. I’ve read really interesting book ‘The Spoilt Generation: Why Restoring Authority Will Make Our Children and Society Happier’ by Aric Sigman that actually performs in-depth analysis of this kind of problems with the children behaviour. I’m only starting as a parent, but I think good manners is one of the most important thing that parents can pass on to their children.

  33. Hello Paul, I absolutely agree with you and the other comments, since this rude behaviour seems quite common nowadays. For myself, I find it much more comfortable and rewarding, just being nice and polite to others just as I’d like to be treated. With regard to the child’s behaviour, as a father of a currently 3yo son it’s often hard to make them behave politely towards others all the time, but it’s definitely worth the effort. We already made him say "please" if he’s longing for something and "thank you" if he gets it most of the times and if he behaves really rude (at home) we send him to a small chair in the vestibule for 3 minutes, where he will sit and calm down and afterwards he’ll always come and tell us, he’s sorry. Sounds rather brutal, doesn’t it, but it was a tip from some friend working in a kindergarten ;-)
    Besides I do firmly believe that even if you’re in a hurry, e.g. as a traveller, you should not push other people away just to get in or out of an elevator and such things. Finally it’s great, so many people react to your rant, sometimes I think that this was only my opinion, since so many others just don’t care, but now I see that there might be some hope at last… So thanks for uttering your thoughts! :-)

  34. I agree Paul and I think that the issue is deeper even than rudeness and parents not teaching children to be respectful and polite. I call this the "wussification" of America, but as your post points out it is all over the world. I hate when parents do not take responsibility for children and let them run rampant and do anything they want. This just compounds as time goes on. Like with all children getting a trophy for playing soccer and not keeping score in the games. How are kids going to learn about competition and how to be good losers and good winners. I have heard people say that they should have gotten an A on a school project because they spent so much time on it and tried hard. That is not the point. I think it all ties back to parents not teaching children about civility and respect. I have a baby on the way and my child WILL NOT behave in the manner that you pointed out in your post or there will be HELL to pay.

    Great Post

  35. I really like your non-techie posts!

    I perceive that generally speaking we fail when we try to raise we children but we succeed when we raise adults.

  36. Paul, some would say the Golden Rule is "He who has the gold, makes the Rule".

    Interesting you cite "all major religion" have some saying but whose listening these days, especially in Europe. I could be wrong but my understanding is that church is considered passe in Europe. Clearly if no one’s in the pew on a Sunday morning but elsewhere I suspect you can look forward to more who have never heard the rule.

  37. @John I’d agree with you. I’ve never been religious in the slightest, but I don’t see this as a religious doctrine – more as common sense societal rule that should be followed.

  38. I think a lot of the problem comes from the ‘self-esteem’ movement of the early ’80s. Kids were told they were ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing’ no matter what. I believe kids were implicitly taught they didn’t have to work hard, or behave properly – they’d still get rewarded.

    See this article ( for more.

    Thanks for allowing me to vent – I feel better now.

  39. Very impressive post, Paul.
    People who read your posts are all DBAs,
    This is worth to be published in a magazine or a newspaper; then surely thousands and millions of readers could read and might change their behaviour.

  40. Its quite imperfect to suggest anything in the “perfect” article and the comments accounted in.

    IMHO, we should pin this post at some mostly likely more noticeable section at sqlskills and secondly to get rid of the feeling “that i may be the only one passe’ one to talk about civility today”, we can post a Poll on this, and check how many of us feel like to make things good with respect to civility.

    At least i have tried to revive comments in the long lived article by posting comments.

    Thank You!

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