Existential Fortune Cookies: On civility

Opinion by Sebastain Gould
March 14, 2012, 12:28 a.m.

As we come into the end of the quarter, we start ramping up for finals by sleeping less and studying more. As in all times of stress, it is important to not lose sight of civility. It takes so little effort to treat others with a small degree of respect, and none at all to at least be ambivalent to them. Being uncivil can ruin someone else’s day. Why do it?


Being uncivil because you are tired or stressed does not convey to the world that you are stressed and tired. It conveys the message that you are not a nice person, and don’t care if you are rude. If you are uncivil to someone, they will have a negative impression of you, and remember you as being rude when they see you again.


One place I’ve seen this play out is the room reservation system at Old Union. Groups and individuals can reserve rooms in Old Union to study and have group meetings for a limited amount of time that they enter into the online reservation system. When it is time for a group to enter the room, if it is already occupied, it is customary for a member from the new group to go to the room and announce politely that they are there to claim the room next. At that point the individuals in the room will be given time to leave before the new group enters.


There are two reasons why occupants are not ready to leave the room immediately, when their time is up. The first is that they had simply not paid attention to the time, and their meeting ran over. The second is that many times a group will reserve a room in Old Union and not show up, and so there is no reason to leave a room until someone comes from the next group and announces that they are present and waiting.


Tuesday of last week, my fiancée and I were at the Old Union studying in a room. About 15 minutes before the next group was scheduled to show up, people walking by started giving really mean looks, distracting me from studying. We could only presume that they were the next group to come in, so I checked on the online room reservation system just to make sure we weren’t using the room when we shouldn’t be. The room wasn’t booked until the top of the hour, so we continued to work.


At exactly 7 P.M., one person from the group came into the room to say, “We have the room now, so…” in a somewhat angry voice. I then pointed to the browser on my laptop, which was open to the room reservation site and said, “Yeah, right here?” She responded, “Yes, this room!” She then leaned forward to see what I was pointing at. When she realized that I was agreeing and not arguing about having to leave the room, she was taken aback. I then proceeded to say, “That’s why we’re leaving,” with a smile.


Stanford is made up of the students who go here. The quality of dorm life and the quality of your classes depend in large part on the positive participation of the students around you. The thing that ties that all together is civility. For academics, respectful discourse is a necessity. Why should life outside of class be any different? Indeed, the fabric of society is woven by the polite, if absent-minded, “good mornings” and “thank yous” we so often exchange.


Would you ever be rude to a professor if they were taking too long to use the bathroom ahead of you? Of course not. For that same reason, why would you be rude to a classmate for using a study room? One day, that person you are rude to could work at the same company as you, or even be your boss. And even if they aren’t, if you get into the habit of being rude to people that you don’t know, you could eventually take on the habit of being rude to the ones you do know. How can you expect to succeed in life if you aren’t polite?


Complain about your rude classmates to Sebastain at sjgould “at” stanford “dot” edu.

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