What is the difference between 'being polite' and 'being rude'?
My generation is often criticized for having no manners. But, in my opinion lots of older people are very unfriendly and rude even though they say 'please' and 'thank-you' and pretend to be polite. What do you think?
Good manners are simply acting in a way that considers the feelings of others. With reference to people in the South using polite words in a sarcastic manner, this custom goes back to the "politing them to death" attitude after the Civil War, so some losses are hard for a people to overcome. There is yet in the South much politeness, especially that shown to older people. Even the younger generation is generally considerate of them. And many of the youths are polite, using "sir" and "ma'am" in a respectful tone.
A person is not truly polite unless their actions, tone of voice, and overall sincereity conincides with whatever 'polite' words they say. So if someone says "Thank you" in a sarcastic tone, they are still being rude even though the words they said were displaying politeness.
I was groomed in manners and etiquette by my Victorian grandmother (born in 1882). I learned many rules that seem ridiculous today: "Children speak only when spoken to;" never lay on a bed except when you are going to sleep at night; always ask for permission from parents before leaving the dinner table.
However, I also learned to respect my elders (which far too many young people fail to do today); to say "sir" and "ma'am"; to open doors for women; to walk on the sidewalk nearest the street when passing a lady; and to respect my elders. There is obviously a point to many of these rules, and the world would be a better place if more people took them to heart.
Some of these old Victorian values could be the reason many older adults treat children disrespectfully, since the pecking order of adults and children were more clearly defined a half century ago. Today, many parents fail to teach their children to respect adults because the parents hated these rules themselves when they were kids. Other parents stress that their children be given as much independence as possible--both in voice and action. Consequently, young adults today seem "rude" in comparison to prior decades.
When I moved from the Midwest to the South, I thought a lot about this very issue. Of course it is generalizing to talk about everyone from a region being one way or the other, but I discovered that I heard many more "polite words" in the South than in the Midwest. LOTS more "please" and "thank you," often with words like "ma'am," "Honey," or "darlin'" attached to them. However, the level of action which accompanies such words (such as holding doors open or allowing a senior citizen to enter a door first) is no different. So, though the people in the South may sound more polite, they act no more polite than people in the Midwest. As to rudeness, even a polite word can become rude when it is said in a sarcastic or offensive tone.
Depending on where you live, it is possible that older people are not supposed to be polite to younger people. There are places where there is a sort of a double standard like that. I have lived in places where it is expected that young people will always be polite to their elders but there is no expectation that older people should be polite to younger people.
The other thing that may be going on is simply that you are perceiving rudeness on their part when none is intended. Many people (especially when they are teens) tend to perceive that other people are acting negatively towards them, regardless of what the other people think is happening. So it may be that you feel others are rude to you because you feel that you are in a position in life where you have no power and are controlled by others.
I am of the baby boomer generation, but I can still remember my feelings on this issue when I was your age. I agree with you that polite words are no substitute for actions and attitudes that are not polite. When our words do not reflect how we act and think, we are being hypocritical. There is nothing about being an older person that entitles one to any more respect, in my opinion, than the respect entitled to a young person, and I sometimes wonder to what degree a lack of respect for young people creates so many of the problems we have in schools. That being said, however, we all need to bear in mind that "Please" and "Thank you" are a sort of social lubrication we should not abandon. What we should aspire to, all of us, young and old, is allowing those words to lead us to more gracious actions and attitudes towards those around us, no matter what their ages are.
Obviously, the use of some words and phrases is so offensive that their use is always considered improper. Other times, the difference is both in the implication of the speaker and the inference of the hearer. The difference is often in the tone of conversation rather than in the choice of words used. Although "please" and "thank you" are considered mandatory phrases in many parts of society, as well as "sir" or "ma'am" in others, both may be delivered in a polite or offensive way. To determine the difference, one might ask these questions: Was the comment spoken in a polite and sincere tone or was it hostile and sarcastic? Did the speaker appear deferential or condescending? Was the speaker's overall attitude conciliatory or hostile? These questions can get one past the fake politeness of those who are well versed at delivering sneers and insults with polite words. Their name, sadly, is legion.
A more important consideration is how to respond to fake politeness. The old proverb is, "a soft answer turns away wrath." One should never repay rudeness by being rude. Respond with kindness and gentleness; demonstrate that you are above this level of pettiness. A polite response is always better than a clever retort.