Categories: Community Blog

Signs of the times

Lately I’ve been noticing some signs popping up at local businesses.

Jack’s Burgers is one of my favourite places in St. Albert. There’s no table service so you have to go up to the counter to order. On the menu board along with the list of yummy things to eat, is this message:

Please do not order while talking on your cell phone.

At the Grandin Medical Clinic, this is taped to the receptionist’s desk:

Verbal abuse, aggressive behaviour or harassment of the staff will not be tolerated.

Sadly, these places are not the exception. More and more there is a need to post a sign telling people to behave in a civilized manner. You can be confident that if a business posts a sign like that, there have been enough incidents that warranted them doing it. No one puts up a sign for a once in a blue moon occurrence.

Isn’t it interesting that these days we have to remind people about what civilized behavior looks like?

Apparently we need reminders that it’s actually the height of rudeness to talk on your cell phone while you are ordering your food – or while you are checking out at the grocery store – or any other time when someone is providing a service to you.

Of course abusive, aggressive or harassing behaviour shouldn’t be tolerated in a workplace. Apparently some people must think that it’s okay to treat the staff in that way.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem that businesses put up signs being explicit about the conduct they expect from patrons.

What I have a problem with is the fact that they need to do it at all.

Somewhere along the way, we have made it okay to not treat our fellow human beings in a civil manner. Behaviour that we tolerate becomes behaviour that is normal.

Perhaps it’s because people are so darn busy, focused on the next thing they have to get done, that they don’t have the time to simply pay attention to the impact that they have on others. Manners and civility have somehow become a symbol of political correctness rather than a reflection of basic decency.

Maybe it’s the rise of the virtual world that encourages everyone to be “me” focused. Add to that the anonymity of social media that allows us, and even encourages us, to say the most inflammatory things without any real consequences, and people begin to forget how to play nicely with others.

The truth is that the world is not just a collection of individual “me’s”. The world is really a big “we” and we all need to be able to peacefully co-exist. That begins with simple kindness and consideration. If we can’t do that, we have little hope of being able to navigate the bigger differences that might exist between us.

Back in 1971 the Five Man Electrical Band released “Signs”, a song about judgment and barriers and long-haired freaky people. It was a song about the ways that we divide and exclude people:

“Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

Fast forward 46 years later and it’s a sign of the current times that we have to have signs to remind us how to bring people together again.

Here’s the thing – you don’t have to wait for sign to treat people with respect. Slow down a bit. Look up from your phone. Be nice. Have some manners. And if you happen to see one of those signs at a business, set an example.

Laurel Vespi: