Op-Ed: The Karen Conundrum — Incivility in America


Clare Foster, Staff Reporter, Sophomore

Since the pandemic, there has been a trend of incivility spreading all over America. People everywhere are becoming more aggressive and disrespectful to others, and one must ask, “Is America losing its civility and courtesy?” Has the pandemic made us crankier, more impatient, more entitled? Even worse, is this sense of entitlement translating into hostility, and even violence? Is this who we want to be?”

A recent study showed that incidents of “road rage” have increased 25% in the last year, where an average of 42 people per month nationwide have been killed or wounded in road rage shootings — double the monthly average for the prior four years.

Meanwhile, in stores, restaurants and airplanes customers have expressed increasing aggravation towards workers, and these “Karens” and “Kens” have felt increasingly empowered since the pandemic.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, as of February 22, there have been 607 reported incidents of unruly passengers aboard airline flights for the year-to-date — and the year is only two months old.

When the pandemic first began in 2020, masks became an everyday item all over the world, yet many looked at this task to bring out the worst in themselves.

Barely a day goes by where the news doesn’t include items like the incident from September of last year where a restaurant hostess at Carmine’s was assaulted by three tourists when she asked them to produce proof of vaccination — a requirement for all establishments in New York City.

Retail workers are obligated to enforce health and safety mandates, and because of this, some customers choose to get violent towards employees who enforce those rules.

Some cases of incivility are smaller and more common, such as yelling and blatant disrespect, and others are examples of unbelievable behavior exhibited by everyday people. In 2020, at the start of the COVID outbreak, a security guard working at Family Dollar was killed after he denied a customer entry because they were not wearing a mask. In another case a restaurant manager had a to-go container of hot soup thrown in her face by a  disgruntled customer.

Discourteous behavior has become a common  occurrence to employees in the workforce. But why? In October, TIME Magazine asked Bernard Golden, a psychologist and the author of Overcoming Destructive Anger.

“We’re going through a time where physiologically, people’s threat system is at a heightened level,” Golden said.“During COVID there has been an increase in anxiety, a reported increase in depression, and an increased demand for mental health services. Lots of people, in other words, are on their very last nerve. Half the people fear COVID; half the people fear being controlled.”

While the COVID Years have certainly been anxious ones, does that justify blatant rudeness and sometimes violent behavior?

We expect misbehavior in toddlers, not adults, and we have to learn to manage under even the most stressful conditions without causing anxiety in others, particularly workers who are already exhausted and stressed. It is tiring, as a worker, to be doing your job on one hand while trying to reason with someone who is being deliberately unreasonable. Throwing a tantrum over insignificant things is an immature way to react as a person and ultimately accomplishes nothing. Being kind and considerate is far healthier.