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what is wrong with people?
by reem al-omari (@Reemawi)

What is wrong with people?

That is a question I ask internally and externally each day at least once, if not a thousand times. I can’t even begin to express how amazed I am at the amount of ignorant, stupid, offensive, and downright MEAN people there are in this world. These people are everywhere, which leads me to believe that there is a serious problem in how people are brought up and where they get their behavior, etiquette (or lack thereof), ideas and beliefs.

Take for instance a recent experience I had while trying out a new section of the RTD Light Rail system that just opened back in November. RTD offered free rides on its vehicles the entire weekend to celebrate the opening of the new section of the Light Rail. Thousands flocked to the many stations across Denver. People of all shapes and sizes pushed, shoved and disgusted me with the entire human race. I rode the train with my mother and sister, and the three of us were in shock at the amount of creatures that appear to be men, but behave like little girls… even little BOYS is too nice to describe these losers. Imagine a grown man, young and healthy, sitting down in a crowded train, while an elderly woman has to stand over him, holding on to keep from falling as the train moves. Imagine another man with his SON, sitting down while an elderly man stands over them holding on to keep from falling as the crowded train moves. It gets worse… A grown woman with a daughter that couldn’t have been older than 12 years of age was pushing and shoving and telling her daughter to do the same to get off the train. This little terrorizing duo nearly knocked me and my mother down!

What is wrong with people?

Ignorance is another disgusting thing I run into more often than I’d like to. In fact, I don’t want to run into ignorance at all, but that can only be in a Utopian society. Being an Arab and a Muslim, I get a lot of stupid questions directed at me, which I answer, because I believe that no question is really stupid. After all, if you make the effort to ask, instead of continue to make a stupid and completely wrong assumption, you’ve absolved yourself of ignorance. That’s how it works in my book. Stupidity is one thing. Ignorance is a completely different kind of animal, and a very dangerous one at that. Years ago, a boy in my physics class in high school asked me what people ate in the Middle East. I was ready to answer the question, because it seemed valid enough. “I know you don’t eat beef, because you guys only have sand there, so you can’t feed the cows.” My mouth was open and ready to answer the previous, more intelligent question, but after hearing the shocking news of what was going on behind that incredibly good-looking face, I shut my mouth and stared. The boy chuckled and innocently asked “What?” “I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer,” was my reply and I left it at that.

Perhaps you can credit the ignorance in that incident to immaturity. Perhaps this cute boy thought he was being funny. But what do you say when grown people make statements that make you want to jump out of your skin, they’re so offensive and sick and just absolutely wrong? I personally haven’t encountered people of this caliber, thank goodness, but I was exposed to people who look like adults of the human race, but are really something else. I have no idea what classification these creatures fall under.

I was watching TV one night, and while flipping through the channels, came across a Primetime special on ABC. The special was called “Basic Instincts”, and it was fun. Actors were hired to appear as drunks ready to get behind the wheel in broad daylight, couples fighting and hitting each other in public, a cashier giving back $100 bills “by accident”. Needless to say, humans are interesting creatures when they see men being beat up by women in public. The most disturbing of these scenarios, was one where actors picked up passengers in a taxi cab and began to spout racist and prejudice remarks. Blacks, homosexuals, Asians, Arabs, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and “brown people”… all these were subject to racist and prejudice remarks. One man in Savannah Georgia responded to his very white taxi driver in agreement, saying that he would love to go “target shooting Mexicaaaaans and Puerto Ricaaaans.” He slurred the nationalities in his twangy, southern accent. A woman in New Jersey responded to her Black cabby’s remarks about Arabs by saying that she would like to put all Arabs on a plane and send them all to “Ali Baba, or wherever it is they’re from”. A Hispanic woman defended Arabs, brown people and Muslims to her cabbie, but when that cabbie said “And those Asians, man!” the woman replied “Yeah, they can’t see right from left.” WHAT???? SERIOUSLY, WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE???? The scariest thing of all is that when these people got out of their cabs, and were asked by the reporter if they thought they were racists or prejudice, they all answered: “No. I don’t see myself that way.” The guy from Savannah got really creepy and told the reporter, “I was just joking. We’re all children of God.” WHAT????? AGAIN! WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE????

I won’t even go into the amount of people with no manners, and the fact that they reproduce and pass their ways down to their offspring. I have to fight really hard the urge to bitch-slap the next teeny bopper who doesn’t say thank you when I hold the door open for him or her. I figure, if you’re that old and can’t bring yourself to say a simple “thank you”, then you’re pretty much hopeless. And then another part of me wants to host a talk show that brings on these vile creatures and sends them to boot camp. Then, I just realize that I’m still in my 20s and can get annoyed and take action when I have my own kids to bitch-slap into submission.

I think now I’ll just go get a bumper sticker that reads “Mean people suck”, and leave it at that.


Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.

more about reem al-omari


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adam kraemer
1.11.07 @ 10:31a

Really? You're surprised that people are motivated by self-interest? That at our base we're subject to animal instincts and passions? That we have prejudices?

Welcome to the world. If you'll have a seat, reality will be with you shortly.

No, I know that it can be disheartening at times, but you have to realize that for every douchebag who doesn't give up his seat for an old man, there are probably 4 or 5 who do. For every woman pushing through a crowd is every other person in that crowd acting in a civil manner. And for everyone who buys into a racial stereotype, there's a stereotype about their race that someone else is buying into.


lisa r
1.11.07 @ 12:11p

Self-interest and animal instincts and passions are a part of the package when we're born. If you have any doubts, watch a group of 14-18-month toddlers interact with one another. They bite, shove, steal toys and throw tantrums when they don't get their way, because they have not learned how to "play well with others". Notice I said not been taught, their little brains can't assimilate manners and civilized behavior at that age--thus the constant and often futile use of "NO" by parents everywhere.

Having said that, as they reach the upper part of that age range they do start showing affection and caring, especially if they receive positive reinforcement and constant coaching from their parents.

My point? Self-interest and "me first!" behaviors come with the DNA--it's why humans have survived as a species for 10,000+ years. Manners and civilized behavior have to be learned from our elders, regardless of culture.

So when you see an adult behaving like a toddler, or even worse, and adult behaving like a toddler and teaching their child to do the same--you're pretty much seeing the failure of the adults that shaped that person's early years. Either that, or the individual's self-centered tendencies were simply too strong to be completely re-directed.


adam kraemer
1.11.07 @ 12:15p

Well, that's placing all the blame on the upbringing, which probably isn't right, either. I mean as adults we're responsible for our actions, regardless of what we learned in childhood. It's not like there's a dearth of good influences out there to combat bad parenting.

ken mohnkern
1.11.07 @ 12:21p

But public transportation tends to bring out the worst in people. I often hate humanity, but more strongly when I'm on the bus.

reem al-omari
1.11.07 @ 3:50p

I'm sorry, and I appreciate everyone's take on this, but I can very easily be labeled selfish in some cases... I know this about myself. BUT I still have manners. I still give up my seat for elders on crowded buses and trains, and I still thank people when they hold the door open for me. Don't tell me that it's human nature to be RUDE... that's rudeness, plain and simple. And it's more natural for me to smile and thank someone or help someone out than it is to just expect someone to extend courtesies to me without my appreciation for it.


adam kraemer
1.11.07 @ 4:05p

It's human nature to want to keep sitting.

reem al-omari
1.11.07 @ 4:08p

Bottom line is... People suck.

adam kraemer
1.11.07 @ 4:26p

You apparently didn't read what I wrote very closely. The only people who suck are the ones who give into those base instincts.

I mean, feel bitter and cynical if it works for you. The hate will make you strong with the force. But I can guarantee that the majority of people seeing an elderly person being thrown about while riding a train will, in fact, choose to give up their seat.

You're just focusing on the jerks who don't. Good luck living like that.


reem al-omari
1.11.07 @ 4:34p

The reason I'm focusing on the jerks, is because that's what my column is about...


mike julianelle
1.11.07 @ 5:18p

Hey Adam, for Mr. Enlightened, you sure get pissed off quickly.

jael mchenry
1.11.07 @ 5:39p

People on public transportation can be annoying, but man, nothing makes me hate humanity as much as people who take up the whole sidewalk, and then walk slowly.

However, like Reem, I have manners, and say things like Excuse me when I squeeze past them. Rather than elbowing them in the kidneys like I really want to do.

Now I'm thinking about the idea of whether a majority of people would give up their seat... I think that most people who SAW an elderly person standing would, but most people wouldn't even look up at a crowded train. Which is not a base instinct, just, people keeping to themselves. Which I'm certainly guilty of.

adam kraemer
1.11.07 @ 6:02p

Did I say I was enlightened? All I said was that looking at a small percentage of people who are jerks and extrapolating from that that somehow we're all jerks seems a bit specious. And kinda depressing.

lisa r
1.11.07 @ 6:40p

You can't blame it all on upbringing, but let's face it--manners and consideration are learned behaviors, and the first place those things are learned are with parents and caregivers. Now, what you choose to do with those lessons after you grow up is solely your responsibility.

It should also be noted that it is just as easy to unlearn bad manners as it is to unlearn good manners.

I should also point out that at least some aspects of consideration and caring are innate in an individual--and this is apparent as the triplets get older and start showing concern and affection for each other and those of us in their little circle. They now hug and kiss each other and us, and yesterday one proceeded to bring me one stuffed animal after another to hold in my lap while I ate dinner. She then took them back, but at least waited until I asked her if she wanted them. :)

This same child also, when in the throes of a horrendous stomach virus before Christmas, got out of her mother's lap to give me a "leg hug" when I arrived to help out during the crisis, before laying right back down and remaining completely still until her stomach attacked again. Of course, she also shared the virus with me, but that's another story entirely.

Some of these caring behaviors are instinctive, but there is also an element learning behind them, as they are emulating our behaviors toward each other and toward them. Nature or nurture, it still starts at home--if the environment isn't conducive, the natural tendencies aren't expressed and nurtured, and the civilized behaviors are not experienced and learned.

What I find amazing is that adults can be so quick to complain about bad manners in others, then turn around and behave the same way toward someone else. Now THAT is abhorrent. The same comment about not complaining about what politicians do if you don't bother to vote can be applied here--if someone can't make the effort to practice good manners, he or she has no right to complain about the boorish nature of others. It's hypocritical.


reem al-omari
1.11.07 @ 7:05p

Funny. I just want to make it clear that I'm not "cynical" or walk around and see half empty glasses everywhere. I don't "live like that". I just look around me and see things that I call out by their name. I saw rudeness that day on the train. If it was something I saw and observed and focused on everywhere I went, I wouldn't have used that day as an example, but since it was so concentrated in a confined space where peolpe are inevitably facing each other and crowded together, the jerks and their rude behavior just really stood out. And that 12-year-old girl wouldn't have pushed people out of the way to get off the train if her mom wasn't putting her up to it... her mom is obviously not a good example of good parenthood. So, in that particular case, I must say, it's the mother's fault that the child has no manners, and unfortunately, that child will grow up to be mannerless, hence, continuing the cycle of rude behavior.


lisa r
1.11.07 @ 9:08p

Sad, isn't it? I do think, though, that Jael may have hit on something. We all have a sense of personal space, which tends to be violated in a crowded place such as a subway car. I have to wonder if the rudeness that seems rampant in such situations is a reaction to the unwanted intrusion into our "me zone", sort of a way of attempting to "retaliate" in some small fashion for the intrusion. It doesn't excuse the behavior, but it might be an explanation.

robert melos
1.11.07 @ 9:22p

Welcome to the human race. I've learned to insulate myself as much as possible. I'm sure there are nice people in the world, not where I am in New Jersey but out there in the rest of the world. Good luck.

juli mccarthy
1.12.07 @ 1:27a

Lisa, I think you are on the right track, but in the wrong direction. I've noticed that personal space is expanding, as people can now take bigger and bigger pieces of it with them, via cellphone, mp3 players, PDA's, what have you. I really think that we have become so used to being in our own little worlds that sometimes we don't realize we're infringing on someone else's.

As for some of the other stuff in this column, I place the blame right smack on pop culture, and our increasing acceptance of bad behavior as entertainment. I know it sounds simplistic, but hey, if it's funny when Bart Simpson or Carlos Mencia does it, it must be funny in the real world, right? We're hardly ever exposed to sterling examples of human behavior in what we read, see and listen to.

tracey kelley
1.12.07 @ 6:29a

I think it's easy to be affected by this kind of stuff, because it seems to be all around us. But every so often, it's important to find a sense of balance.

An evil NYC editor (Barbara Jones, you will live on in this manner for the rest of my days) once mocked Reader's Digest, saying it was "pap" and "I'm certain no one in NYC reads this". Funny, considering it originated on Long Island. Anyway, most of us were trying to tell her that even though it carries a lot of advertising (mostly for meds you may never need), it has a lot of good news in it, and that's nice to read as a change of pace.

I subscribe to it, simply for that reason. I also like to go to Good News Now. Sure, it's a bit hokey, and a little religiously slanted, but sometimes it just takes the sting out of the ickiness of some of the world to see more positive headlines.

tracey kelley
1.12.07 @ 6:34a

I also recently felt uplifted reading this story about the man who saved a teen from a subway train

He Said He Was Just Trying to Do the Right Thing.

You read something like this, and your faith-in-people barometer inches up a little.

tracey kelley
1.12.07 @ 6:41a

(I'm just filled with ooziness today) Here's another great article about
Positive Psychology (couldn't link this - sorry)



lisa r
1.12.07 @ 10:33a

Juli, I was thinking in terms of actual personal physical space--there's a mental "perimeter" we establish around us, and when it is penetrated we develop feelings of being intruded upon physically. Humans are social creatures but we are not herd animals, so we are not comforted by being packed together like sardines in a can. Most of us feel very uncomfortable if someone we do not know gets up close to us physically and crowds us.

What you're describing, however, may be a way of coping with that very feeling--if we can block that physical intrusion of strangers by distracting ourselves mentally with music, reading material, a cell phone conversation with someone we DO know, or a task that requires mental focus--then we are able to withdraw from the physical intrusion psychologically.

Tracey, dear--I do believe you had an extra dose of rainbows, hearts and stars with your Lucky Charms this morning! :)


alex b
1.12.07 @ 6:57p

The issues Reem writes about are easy to get affected by. Someone in your physical perimeter (someone else's arm against yours from the seat next to you on the train train) or the hum of people uttering nonsense and garbage in their conversations can totally change your mood for the worse. Which is why I never leave my iPod at home- it allows me to block things out.

However, I can't avoid it all. I've been baited by people cracking ethnic remarks and Oriental jokes. When it's that particular horror, I've smiled, stared, and sweetly said, "Yeah, and you guys are into us like white on rice, right?"

Sometimes you get an apology, sometimes it's a sheepish silence, and other times you see people walk away. But even though people are horrible, I just don't allow them to behave horribly in front of me.

reem al-omari
1.12.07 @ 7:22p

I'm assuming that it's a good thing that the issues I write about are easy to get affected by. :-D

alex b
1.12.07 @ 7:45p

I don't know if you can call it a good thing- but you can definitely say it's inevitable.

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