Why Are Some People So Mean, Rude, And Disrespectful To Others?

Yes indeed, why? How often do you ask yourself that question when you meet with an ugly response from another individual in a particular situation, especially one where such a reaction is totally inappropriate and unjustified?

Let’s face it: the human condition has never been a utopia where everyone is unfailingly kind, thoughtful, and respectful.

It’s Nothing New

There have always been and there will always be mean, rude, and disrespectful people.

Even the Greek philosophers complained of the problem two thousand or so years ago – Plato famously ranted about the ill-mannered and disrespectful behavior of youths.

Generally, it’s up to us (hopefully) more measured and reasonable individuals to tolerate what we view as unacceptable behavior or to respond, for better or worse, in whatever way seems right in the circumstances.

When I’m feeling generous, I try to imagine the person who has just shouted rudely and unnecessarily at me, or has irritated me by cutting into a long line of patiently waiting people, as a toddler or a child.

I wonder what stimuli they must have encountered to turn them into aggressive and unpleasant adults who seem to think that good manners died out with the dodo.

(When I’m feeling more feisty, I’ll admit my reaction is somewhat different and less tolerant… well, nobody’s perfect!)

Rudeness Is On The Rise

Some 79% of Americans say that a lack of respect is a serious problem while 60% think that rude behavior is on the rise.

This seems like an epidemic, with one act of rudeness inspiring another and ultimately creating a spiral of rudeness.

Imagine this scenario: Someone is annoyed by a rude driver who cuts them up on their way to work. That person walks into the office to be greeted cheerily by a colleague, but can only complain about the rude driver.

In turn, the co-worker takes this as a personal slight and becomes irritated, ultimately taking it out on the next person arriving at work. That third person responds to the hurt by being grumpy and rude.

And so the cycle of rudeness marches ever onward, thanks to the action of that inconsiderate driver.

7 Root Causes Of Rudeness

Although the frustrations and stresses of modern day life are clearly a factor, there are many influences and conditions that cause people to be rude, disrespectful, and inconsiderate.

Let’s take a more analytical approach and consider if there could be more than just our frenetic 21st century lifestyle behind the rise in rudeness.

What are some other possible causes?

1. Low Self-esteem

A careful observation of many rude individuals will reveal that they are deeply insecure, with low self-confidence and a lack of understanding about human behavior.

As the Brazilian novelist Paul Coelho sagely observed: “How people treat others is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves.”

If a person regards herself/himself in a constantly negative and critical light, that attitude is bound to affect the way they regard others.

People with low self-esteem often mask their own insecurities by flexing their verbal muscles, being rude and boorish, in an attempt to make themselves feel strong.

2. Personal Problems

None of us are immune to feeling stress related to our close relationships, our work, or to any number of other factors.

No matter how well we think we’re handling personal crap, there are times when our frustrations and anger make us lash out verbally in situations we’d normally sail through with a smile.

In this case, it’s worth remembering that WE are the ones who are being rude or mean.

When we’re under such strain, it’s easy to act before thinking and do or say things which are at best impolite and at worst actively rude.

That’s a good reason to cut others some slack when you feel offended by their rude behavior. You just never know what current events are playing out in others’ lives at any time. 

3. Learned Behavior

No two value systems in families and upbringings are the same. If you were brought up in a home environment where harsh words were the norm and it wasn’t unusual for objects to be thrown around in anger, clearly you’d see that as acceptable behavior.

And, of course, it can and does get way worse than that. Living on the edge has become internalized for these people and, as a result, they respond accordingly when they are enraged by others.

These people just do not know any better, not having been exposed to any other way of handling stress.

4. Personality Disorders

Such negative and anger-ridden childhood experiences as those described above can lead to the development of actual personality disorders and ultimately to behavior which is seen as mean, rude, or disrespectful.

Hardly surprising when socially acceptable boundaries for human interaction haven’t been hard-wired during impressionable years.

Those with conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder often appear rude or inconsiderate due to a lack of empathy and a tendency to disregard others’ feelings.

5. Cultural Differences

In our multi-cultural, ever-shrinking world, where we constantly rub shoulders with people from other countries governed by a totally different set of values and etiquette, this is more important than we might think.

What’s thought to be rude and unacceptable behavior in one culture might be encouraged in another.

German people, for example, have no qualms about speaking their mind, whereas the British will beat around the bush endlessly rather than say what they think.

To the British, then, a straight-talking German is rude and insulting, whereas the German will be flummoxed by the British approach.

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6. ‘Brain Strain’ Caused By Technology Overload

Undoubtedly, the rapid rise of digital data and technology has led to an exponential increase in the pace of life.

Juggling mobile phones, the insistent and oh-so-hard-to-ignore demands of social media, and the online information explosion leaves people bombarded with constant demands on their attention that didn’t exist as little as 15 years ago.

This relentless activity, with its urgent requirement for immediate action, can create ‘brain strain’ (not an actual clinical diagnosis!), leading to anxiety and stress, and, in turn, to aggravation and aggressive behavior.

People are overloaded and overwhelmed and politeness has been sacrificed on the altar of technology.

7. Emotional Immaturity And Low Emotional Intelligence

Some people, for whatever reason, may not yet have matured in the emotional sense. Perhaps they never will.

They are emotionally unintelligent. When they act in a way that hurts others, they do so, in part, because they lack the awareness to consider the impact of their actions.

Since they cannot comprehend their behavior as hurtful, they see no reason not to engage in it. They have no mental checks in place to stop them from acting in such ways.

Tips For Coping With Rude Behavior

If and when you are faced with someone acting in a mean or disrespectful way, what should you do?

1. Try To Develop A Rudeness Filter

Remind yourself that there may be so much more than just plain rudeness going on and filter out your instinctive response.

Whether the reason is emotional, social, psychological, or cultural, there will be some trigger or other for the behavior you find hurtful or unacceptable.

Whatever the issues behind the behavior – any one of the above or a whole host of others – you have no control over the circumstances underlying the action. But you can control how you respond.

2. Don’t Take Things Personally

It’s so easy to get upset by rude comments, especially if they’re personal.

You’ll render their hurtful words powerless, though, if you choose to treat them as their problem, not yours. Remember that you have a choice in the way you react and responding like-for-like is rarely the best response.

3. Find Out The Reason

Take the time to find out what triggered the rudeness. Perhaps it’s a one-off and they’re just having ‘one of those days’ or they’re so pushed for time that manners have been squeezed out of the equation.

Quite possibly they don’t even realize that they’ve been rude. You won’t know until you ask and the answer may surprise you!

4. Walk Away

Try to curb your instinctive response and stop yourself from retaliating. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and it’s not going to help anyone if you allow yourself to respond in the same vein.

Removing yourself from the challenging situation is the most effective way to avoid being in the firing line for more rude behavior from the same person.

Even if they’re still talking to you, just walk away!

You have nothing to lose if they’re a stranger, since you’ll never have to encounter them again.

If they’re a friend or colleague, they’ll soon get the message that being rude to you is pointless and achieves nothing (and maybe that will prompt them to be nicer next time).

Either way, you retain the moral high ground.

5. Give Some Thought To Cultural Differences

Don’t automatically assume that the person who has just irritated you with their mean or insulting behavior shares your cultural norms.

If you realize that they are just doing what comes naturally to them, no matter how much it winds you up, you’ll find it easier to tolerate the behavior.

Remember that you may unknowingly be guilty of upsetting people from other cultures by acting in a way which you consider to be quite normal.

6. Fight Rudeness With Kindness

Even though it’s often counterintuitive, one of the best ways to defuse rudeness is to stay helpful and friendly. This gives the other person a chance to calm down and readjust their behavior.               

7. Don’t Perpetuate The Spiral Of Rudeness

Don’t let the inconsiderate or downright rude actions or words of others spoil your day and cause you to continue the cycle as you lash out at others.

Try to take a deep breath, remember that that person’s problems are not your responsibility, and face the day with a smile. Perhaps you can, in a small way, reverse the cycle and spread some joy instead!   

Overwhelmed By Circumstances

The happy truth about human beings is that the majority are decent people who are occasionally so overwhelmed by circumstances that they lash out verbally and take out their frustration on innocent parties.

It’s thankfully very rare to find a person who is rude just for the sake of it. They are out there, for sure, but they aren’t the norm and even those people are very likely to have suffered or still be suffering some trauma or other.

Dealing with rude and mean people requires bucket loads of empathy and patience. This may sound like the responsibility to change lies with you and not the other person.

Consider, though, what the alternative would be: respond rudely and give them an actual reason in the future to do the same to you. And then we’re back into that spiral of rudeness once more…                                                                                       

Be HumanKIND

Overall, I must confess to being from the ‘manners maketh man’ (and woman, naturally) school of thought. You might put that down to my age and upbringing and you wouldn’t be wrong!

I truly believe, however, that humankind can only continue to exist happily on our ever more crowded home planet if the majority of people treat each other with kindness, respect, and empathy.

The clue is in the name: humanKIND.

So, while there will always be mean, rude, and disrespectful people, my advice is to retain the moral high ground and not to continue the cycle of rudeness by letting their insulting behavior affect the way you interact with others.

About Author

Working as a freelance copywriter, Juliana is following a path well-trodden by her family, who seem to have 'wordsmithing' in their DNA. She'll turn her quill to anything from lifestyle and wellness articles to blog posts and SEO articles. All this is underpinned by a lifetime of travel, cultural exchange and her love of the richly expressive medium of the English language.

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