Superficial Politeness – Is that a Redundant Term?

There’s a difference between being polite and being nice. I didn’t understand it until recently, but it seems to be surprisingly easy for many people to be superficially polite but not be nice in general.


I know now only because it would really upset me when I couldn’t understand how someone who is so ‘nice’, could possibly be so not nice in their actions. I realized then that I was confusing the two concepts: polite is by definition a superficial adjective, it doesn’t take sincerity to show good manners.

When I think polite I think of the term ‘gentlemen’. It’s always struck me as odd that ‘gentlemen’ is used as a sort of generic term for any group of men. So, for instance, if a group of high school boys are being rowdy, or if they’ve been caught doing something illegal and are led to a person of authority to be disciplined, they’re always addressed as ‘gentlemen.’ As if calling them that will somehow turn them into actual gentlemen and have them cease their ill-conceived ways. (There are many, many examples of this, not least of which is the term ‘Gentlemen’s Club’ as a euphemism for a strip club).

I’ve always had trouble with that, but more and more I’ve been having trouble understanding how seemingly ‘nice’ people, who I now know aren’t actually nice, just polite, are…not. When people are polite to me, especially people in positions of authority at school, work, or anywhere, I attach mental labels to them, as guideposts of a sort so I can establish a relationship with them based on their personality. But, when their personalities don’t match what my pre-established labels tell me they should be, I get confused. It’s really difficult holding two opposing thoughts in your mind and trying to get them to reconcile with each other. These people’s actions don’t match up with their words, which is a very confusing way of experiencing hostility let me tell you.

It’s one thing to know someone as hostile from the very beginning; you can prepare yourself mentally for a relationship based on that hostility relatively easily. But, to be prepared to be friendly towards someone based on your prior encounters with them and then encounter such hostility is disconcerting to say the least. Especially if the polite speech and friendly encounters continue even after their hostility has been made clear.

It’s called hypocrisy, I know, I just have trouble wrapping my mind around it sometimes. I’m not saying I’m immune from that either, we’re all subject to hypocrisy in some way, shape, or form, but for the most part it should be to a less blatant degree than the kind I’ve encountered from people.

The handful of people in positions of authority who I trust and respect have told me that this a life lesson. Or that it builds character. But I’m really tired of having to build this much character.


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