The cell phone always rings twice

Everyone has been that guy. You know, the jerk who got a call — gasp — in the middle of lecture. It’s OK; we’re only human, it happens. As a response, everyone present has the same thought, quasi-simultaneously: “That’s annoying.” But as that guy hurriedly tries to silence the offending cell phone, why doesn’t everyone have the subsequent thought, “I should turn mine off, too”? Is it really so unreasonable to expect those present to have such a thought?

Apparently so, as evidenced by a lecture I attended, which was interrupted by four different cell phones. Four! C’mon people, that’s ridiculous. I’m no expert in etiquette, and I do make mistakes — but that’s too much.

Unfortunately, such social negligence is rather common. I have a class in York 2722 where, routinely, every seat but seven or so are taken. Well, they’re not taken by people, but they are often taken up by backpacks. And the backpacks are so intensely concentrated on learning chemistry that when poor, breathless students rush in a few minutes late from their previous class in Warren Lecture Hall, the backpacks refuse to give up their seats.

Interestingly enough, these backpacks are not paying $19,623 yearly to attend school like the slightly tardy students, so you would think they would feel embarrassed and readily give up their seats. Not so. Sometimes, they won’t even leave when gently asked. To add insult to injury, on the way home a few of them even find their way onto shuttle seats.

Perhaps this is too abstract for the offending, so read carefully: Despite what the shameful parts of our history seem to say, it is generally accepted that people are more important than, and not the same as, property. And while disrupting class by coming in late is rude, so is exacerbating the matter by not letting a person sit down quickly and silently without having to beg for a seat. Given, those present get priority over those not present, even if the not-present intend to come to lecture in 20 minutes. Especially after lecture has already started.

Some people are aware that they are rude and think things are best left that way because manners are for sheep. A common misconception about manners is that people who have them are doormats, quietly acquiescing and silently fuming while the street-savvy trounce all over them. Rubbish. We need only to look to Miss Manners, etiquette columnist for the Washington Post. She is pithily caustic, having no patience for the greedy and self-absorbed, but delivers her lessons with wit, humor and, of course, perfect politesse.

Another equally egregious misconception is that the goal of etiquette is to amass as much arcane knowledge about whether the finger bowl goes to the right or left of the water glass so that one may embarrass and correct others, thereby appearing superior. In reality, directly correcting others’ manners, especially in the presence of others, is boorish and misses the entire point of etiquette. Actually, it does worse. It counters the point of etiquette. The point of etiquette is to show respect for others and make them feel comfortable around you, as well as to diffuse conflict.

Rudeness can also have consequences in the workplace. Surveys being flouted among student government committees show that employers of recent UCSD graduates think we need more people skills.

We’re not people persons. Riding the shuttle or looking around York 2722, I can’t say I’m surprised. What is bothersome about rudeness, besides the fact that no one wants to be on the receiving end, is that it shows an entrenched selfishness and disregard for others. The unintentionally rude especially are so self-centered that they do not even think to consider others. It’s not just that they are lazy and think their backpack deserves a seat more than you do — they never bother at all to consider that the place is full and that other people need seating.

If employers want someone who can communicate and work well on a team, perhaps a good litmus test is to consider how politely that person behaves around his or her peers. People who are polite frequently assess how their actions are impacting others; people who are rude rarely do. Polite people often wonder what others are thinking, where others are coming from or what others’ needs are. These kinds of assessment are needed to work well with others. Interpersonal skills are based on the ability to understand and empathize with others’ concerns. To sell a product, give good customer service or calm a patient at the bedside, you need this skill. You need theory of mind, which some of us, apparently, lack.

Perhaps then we, as UCSD students, need practice in considering others’ needs. If your silver-threaded silk backpack has accidentally found its way onto a seat, and the place is more than half full, you should set it back down on the floor. If it can’t learn to stay there or on your lap, perhaps it should be left at home until it learns to behave. If your foot is really tired, you may take it for a walk.

Under no circumstance, however, are you to let it rest on the shoulders or chair of the person in the row in front of you. Doing so will reveal you as socially impaired. If the shuttle is getting full and you refuse to move from your aisle seat to the empty window seat, you are letting everyone on the shuttle know that you are still stuck in the “me, me, me” stage most of us left behind on our third birthdays.

This is exceedingly unattractive because it implies you’re the sort of person who hogs all the covers at night, talks on and on about yourself or gets stuck with the nickname “minuteman.” No one wants to date that. Except perhaps other people in such stages of arrested development.

Next time the infamous cell phone rings in class, expect that a good number of people will be having, and acting on, the thought to turn theirs off. When it rings again, you can be sure the same number of people will have flagged whom not to date or hire.