Strangers and Friends: A Shared History and Less Graciousness

Ryan Hol­i­day asks a very good ques­tion: why do we extend patience and tol­er­ance to strangers, while sim­ul­tan­eously treat­ing those closest to us less gra­ciously?

It’s an inter­est­ing ques­tion with some equally inter­est­ing pos­sible answers (is it a sub­con­scious and inef­fi­cient way of attempt­ing to ease our daily lives by telling those we spend the most time with how we want to be treated?). I like the con­clus­ory piece of advice: we should give every­one “the gra­cious­ness of meet­ing them fresh each time”.

Some weirdo says some­thing to you in the gro­cery store and you smile and nod your head, “Yup!” Just to avoid a scene right? You have a meet­ing with a sales rep and indulge the friendly but point­less chitchat even though you hate it. But a friend mis­pro­nounces a word and we leap to cor­rect them. Your girl­friend tells a bor­ing story and you’ve got to say some­thing about it, you’ve got to get short with her. What kind of bull­shit is this? We give the bene­fit of cour­tesy to every­body but the people who earned it.

Think of how much patience we have for total strangers and acquaint­ances. But what a short fuse we have for the actu­al people in our life. In the course of our every­day lives, our pri­or­it­ies are so very back­wards. We do our best to impress people we’ll nev­er see again and take for gran­ted people we see all the time. We’re respect­ful in our busi­ness lives, cas­u­al and care­less in our per­son­al. We pun­ish close­ness with cri­ti­cism, reward unfa­mili­ar­ity with polite­ness.

This is a great example of why I read Ryan’s work: he’s adept at point­ing out the every­day hypo­cris­ies that we rarely notice.

5 thoughts on “Strangers and Friends: A Shared History and Less Graciousness

  1. Greg

    I think there’s a very strong evol­u­tion­ary reas­on for why we treat strangers so politely. In short, we don’t know how strangers will react to any of our reac­tions. How­ever, those closest to us are known quant­it­ies that we can engage with at much deep­er levels than with strangers. It is the very fact that our friends have made their way into our inner circle that we feel com­fort­able and open enough to *act like ourselves* and that’s really what this is about. Do you politely cor­rect your­self in your head when you start doing some­thing bor­ing or stu­pid? No. You use nor­mal lan­guage with nor­mal tones that have real mean­ing to you. By exten­sion our friends and fam­ily are seen as exten­sions of our per­son­al selves. Polite­ness is as much about ensur­ing a spe­cif­ic envir­on­ment and out­come. I’m not say­ing you should take advant­age of your friends – not at all – but what I’m say­ing is that being overly polite to those closest to you will send a sig­nal to them that they aren’t close to you. It’s a VERY fine line.

  2. Vanessa

    I’m sorry but I don’t see what is worth post­ing about Ryan’s art­icle. Did he just dis­cov­er that you should not take your loved ones or close rela­tion­ships for gran­ted? And now he needs to share it with the world?

    I mean, the part about being polite to strangers might have some­thing to it for most people (in the US) but “We give the ben­e­fit of cour­tesy to every­body but the peo­ple who earned it.”? “We’re … cas­u­al and care­less in our per­sonal (lives). We pun­ish close­ness with crit­i­cism…”. Ser­i­ously? Who does that? If this would be true, the world would con­sist only of lonely, bit­ter people who don’t have friends or spouses. I just don’t think it applies to that many people.

    Well, apart from a hand­ful of Ryan’s read­ers who thanked him for the eye-open­er and his advice on how to stop being a jerk.

    Sorry, Lloyd, bet­ter luck next time ;). I’m used to being blown away by your posts. Or at least intrigued.

  3. Lloyd Morgan Post author


    I can’t speak for Ryan, but I don’t think that this is being presen­ted as a piece of Earth-shat­ter­ing insight. I also don’t think that it’s simply about tak­ing people for gran­ted or about being a jerk. Instead, I believe that this is about treat­ing those close to us bet­ter and about hav­ing patience. It’s being poin­ted out simply as an unusu­al way of behav­ing.

    Surely at least once in your life you’ve snapped at someone close to you; been mean to someone you love; or been irre­spons­ible with a friends trust? If not, I would be amazed. How­ever, it’s a rare thing for someone to have acted like this to a com­plete stranger, right? I believe that’s what this is about.

    It’s not say­ing that we’re com­plete rouges to those close to us all the time. Just that we some­times are, and that we should learn to con­trol those impulses… like we do when in situ­ations with strangers.

    It’s a pity you didn’t enjoy the post at all, but hope­fully you’ll find some­thing to your lik­ing over the next few days.

  4. Lloyd Morgan Post author

    Greg, this is exactly why I love evol­u­tion­ary psy­cho­logy!

    There are so many per­fectly val­id reas­ons for why this beha­viour mani­fests itself, and your sug­ges­tion is a great one. I can com­pletely see that being the case.

    Thanks for shar­ing your thoughts. It’s got me think­ing…

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