“Talk to the Hand” by Lynne Truss

Talk to the hand, ’cause the face ain’t listening!

How rude!

Well, you know what you can effing do!

Is everyone around you shockingly rude? Do you find yourself dissed by shop clerks?…given the run-around by customer service phone trees?…pelted with garbage by faceless, uncaring litterers?

Lynne Truss’ Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door will comfort you that at least you’re not the only one exasperated…and perhaps challenge you that there is something we can do about it.

Sometimes, Just Vent

There is a certain value in sharing our frustrating experiences. When we talk about the mother who changed her baby’s diaper/nappy on a public bench and just abandoned the stinky object there (the diaper, not the child), our listeners can groan and grimace with us…and then we all laugh and feel better because at least we’re not suffering in silence.

Ms. Truss’ quaint Britishisms also encourage us to laugh at what would otherwise infuriate us. She assures us that she occasionally confronts litterbugs with the evidence of their misconduct…well, as long as they’re not too big (or accompanied by someone bigger than she is – she knows her own limits), meaning as long as they’re under three feet tall and four years old.

And yet her slightly exaggerated examples of annoying rudeness are close enough to our own experiences that we can say, “Yes, that’s exactly how it felt when the lady on the bus refused to turn down her obnoxious music! How long until it won’t be safe to go out-doors?!”

Nothing Is Ever “Just One Thing”

It’s all very well to shrug and grimace and say, “Well, he didn’t thank me for holding the door open. Typical!” or “She’s chatting away on her cell phone while checking out at the store. Typical!” or “She let her children run wild through the store and break an entire shelf of glass paperweights. Typical!”

Bad behavior invariably points to something deeper. Ms. Truss doesn’t mention that this “something deeper” is a rejection of God, but she does grieve the loss of common respect that allowed civil society to function.

You see…if someone drops his old coffee cup onto the ground in front of you and you bring his attention to this, he’ll cuss you out. He can’t allow anything to denounce his own behavior. To suggest he should be ashamed of dumping his trash twenty steps from a trash can is to impinge on his sovereign self-direction – which is the ultimate crime of our modern society.

The specific ways this manifests are different in Ms. Truss’ Great Britain than in my own American Midwest…but I think the root cause, and the spiritual undertones, are the same.

Gas-lighting the Polite

Are we just over-sensitive prigs, left over from a different culture? Ms. Truss digs into this question…both with a view of the “politically correct” woke culture, and a healthy mockery of it.

When a lady announces her pronouns before starting a conversation with you…who is being overly sensitive? Is it her, for being offended when you use the wrong ones? Or is it you, for recognizing the absolute stupidity of this behavior?

In a world where everyone is constantly offended – both the bus-driver who had to brake abruptly, and the pedestrian who stepped in front of him thoughtlessly – how can we even define what is truly “rude”?

As Ms. Truss incisively reveals, the only rude behavior is that of other people. “I” am never rude…only tired, or stressed. When other people break “my” own code of polite conduct, it is absolutely their fault. “I” am not beholden to any external code of ethics or civil behavior.

I believe every word of this. Universal politeness must spring from the idea that other people are due respect as a matter of fact…not for any service they rendered to you.

People used to be accorded respect because:

  • They were older than you.
  • They knew more.
  • They knew less.
  • They were weaker than you.
  • They held a position that held respect (policeman, judge, teacher).
  • They were doing you a service (shop clerk, waiter, bus driver).
  • You were doing them a service.
  • etc.

Now, the core of society is rooted in “myself.” Everyone who breaks “my” code of ethics and politeness is guilty of criminal rudeness…and anyone who accuses me of ____ is obviously in the wrong.

Littering is my right. Anyone who says otherwise is “too sensitive.” Everyone else must accommodate “my” sensibilities.

Solution: Hard Work at the Root

As Ms. Truss says, part of her reason for writing this book was to discover a tiny flame of hope…and then fan it madly with a big hat.

She also fearlessly points the finger at parents who are so anxious to be their children’s “friends” that they refuse to give them guidelines, expectations, consequences, and external codes of conduct.

Instead of stopping their children and making them pick that candy wrapper back up off the floor, they praise everything they do and scold anyone who assigns blame to the “little darlings.”

I can’t imagine this is only a British problem. God instituted two persons to form, develop, and disciple young human beings from the moment they take their first breath (and give that first little scream)…their mother and father.

And as we already saw, to deny any external standards of conduct – to insists that “I” am the one and only ruler and justifier of my own behavior – is to end in disaster.

A world where strangers call you, then ask you to wait on hold! Where children break your things, and their parents act like it was your fault for leaving such valuable things in reach of children. Where someone cuts you off in traffic, and in response to your panicked honk gives you the finger.

Rudeness is so much more than not lifting your pinky during tea. It’s how you treat other people…do you love them as you love yourself? Do you treat them with the dignity they deserve as image-bearers of our Creator God?

Well, that lady who rolled her eyes at me totally got what she deserved.

As usual, changing the world starts with asking Jesus to change me.

Thank goodness Ms. Truss wraps her convicting challenge in wit, humor, and delightful humility! Read her manifesto of exasperation with the modern world…or listen to it in her own voice, as I did!

Talk to the Hand is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo (also offers an audiobook!), the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping), and AbeBooks.

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