The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Seeking to be polite

Every culture establishes rules assisting its members in navigating its hierarchy. The members learn these rules and apply them as they interact with one another.

It’s what is commonly called being polite.

Most of the rules have become rituals. They involve for example how to great others, or how to show respect. Depending on the event, there will even be a well-defined protocol of how to do things. We are used to these rituals and find ourselves reassured when they are used as expected.

These habits allow us to assess how others can be respected and will feel well treated.

Sometimes, however, being polite becomes complicated.

Typically this happens, when people approach being polite from the other perspective. It’s not about being polite and respectful anymore, it now serves to avoid being disrespectful, hurting, or anger the other person.

In that moment they have switched into what is called a driver. It’s a behavior that comes out of slight insecurity. The situation is perceived as one in which one’s behavior or the other person’s behavior is under a condition.

Taking the please you driver as an example. Someone who is trying to please the other will seek to avoid any type of conflict. Extra efforts are undertaken to be kind, to avoid hurting the other or to say anything the other person might not like to hear.

For the person subject to a driver this means that when the reaction is different than expected, they will immediately question themselves. They will find themselves thinking about their behavior and how it might have been wrong.

It distracts them from paying attention to the impact their words had on the other person. Stuck in thinking about their error, they will find it hard to see the other person’s perspective. From being an attentive participant in the conversation it shifts them into reacting from a point of view of their own needs and desires. Occupied with their own needs they can’t see nor address what the other person is looking for. Which consequently also confuses the other person who will then also step into a driver.

Usually, this is harmless as we are used to experiencing drivers sometimes even a thousand times per day. A driver usually only lasts from half a second to a few seconds. However, if the person doesn’t see how to step out of the driver, it will repeat itself. The situation thus becoming stressful for the person. From a small confusion under the impact of a driver, the person starts to experience difficulties contributing to the conversation in a thoughtful way. Usually, this is out of awareness for them, as they repeat a habitual pattern that feels manageable.

While politeness rituals have reassuring effects. The effort to be polite reduces fluidity in a conversation. The latter makes it difficult for those involved to be present in the conversation.


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