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Is it my imagination, or are people doing a lot more arguing these days? It seems like lots of folks have a big-time chip on their shoulder and are ready to spring a verbal attack at any moment.

Some of it’s pandemic-related; people are legitimately tired of masks and many have strong opinions about vaccines and what should or shouldn’t be required. But I think it goes much deeper than the angst people have been experiencing over the past year and a half.

Travel seems to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. On a recent family trip, I was astounded at the misbehavior I witnessed. At one train station, when politely asked by the ticket agent to don a mask, a nicely dressed 40-something woman quickly got on the defensive, snapping at the ticket agent that mask-wearing was a mandate, not a law, and therefore she was exempt from wearing a mask. When the ticket agent stated that she was harassing him, preventing him from doing his job, she became defensive; “It doesn’t look like you do anything here,” she said, incorrectly.

On this same trip at a different train station, the man standing in line behind me at the sandwich shop began cussing and insulting the hardworking sandwich artists. The cops ultimately hauled him off. When I said to the worker, “I’m sorry you had to put up with such abuse,” she replied, “It happens every day, all the time.” So sad.

And while on a regional motor coach, I observed people trying to get on the bus and insulting the driver. “What do you mean this bus doesn’t go to Chicago?” Duh: If it doesn’t go to Chicago, then it doesn’t go to Chicago. Becoming confrontational with the dedicated driver won’t change the itinerary!

Several times over the past few years while traveling by train, I’ve observed passengers becoming verbally abusive to other passengers or employees. Sometimes it’s someone who’s consumed too much alcohol, but often, that’s not the case. On a recent trip, a cursing passenger shoved the train conductor. He was removed from the train many stops before his destination and greeted by local police. I’ve seen similar scenarios more times than one might imagine!

When did civility go by the wayside? I remember the TV talk shows of the early 1990s when people were totally rude to each other and made accusations with absolutely no social filters in place.

I believe the global pandemic really exacerbated rudeness and anger-management issues. Our choices have become fewer, our worlds have become smaller. We feel disempowered. Most people don’t like being told what to do, and there’s so much judging going on among friends and also strangers on how to navigate keeping healthy and safe, often with very overt shaming.

Some people have no qualms about approaching a stranger in a store and confronting them for not wearing a mask, for example. Somehow, that anonymity (they don’t know my name or who I am) makes it easy for some people to justify this type of judging.

You think about bullying as something that kids experience from other kids in school. But let’s face it, bullying among adults is just as prevalent, maybe even more. Recently, I was driving around town, not too fast, not too slow, when a man in a car driving the other direction made a derogatory hand gesture to me, putting up his middle finger. That was totally uncalled for.

I drive a small car, and when a large vehicle is right on my tail, I feel bullied. Tailgating while driving is bullying, in my opinion.

People feel compelled to correct others and prove that they’re right, even when they aren’t. Pointing out the flaws of others, acquaintance or stranger, has somehow become fashionable. How did this all happen?

Maybe we can attempt to reverse this ugly behavior. Let’s each start by looking in the mirror and getting a grip on things when anger creeps in or greets our psyche like an unexpected hailstorm. We all get angry, certainly. But let’s not use that as an excuse to get rid of decorum and be nasty to others. It’s toxic for all involved and ultimately for the bigger world.

Being on a short fuse with others solves nothing, absolutely nothing. In the immediate, it might feel like it does, but truly it does not.

Civility creates a win-win situation. Please, let’s all be a little gentler.

Debra Karplus is an occupational therapist and freelance writer living in Champaign-Urbana. Learn more at debra

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