Often times rudeness begets rudeness. A friend of mine taught me a way to not fall into that trap. Essentially she would make up a reason to explain why a person would behave the way they did. For example, if a driver was weaving through traffic and cut her off in the process, she would simply explain that his wife must be in labor or that his son was dying and he desperately had to get where he was going. Sometimes the excuses she made up for others rude or inconsiderate words and actions were quite possible, sometimes they were humorous, and sometimes they really were a stretch. Regardless, this exercise allowed her to explore the situation from outside her own vantage point and gave the other person the benefit of the doubt. Isn't it better to assume the best of someone? Isn't it better to try to understand where they are coming from before reacting without thinking and possibly saying or doing things that we later regret?
The essence behind what she did lies in the truth that people do things for a reason and we just don't have all the pieces to the puzzle. I'm sure if we did, we could better understand their actions and perhaps have more patience, sympathy, and love for them, regardless of their behavior. One time when my daughter was a toddler, she was really acting up and was eventually sent to time-out. I remember being very upset with her and frustrated with her behavior. Suddenly, she was throwing up. Immediately my eyes were opened as I understood the cause: she was sick! I felt horrible for being upset with her instead of recognizing that something was wrong, that there was a reason behind her actions and not just that she was trying to ruin my day. This new knowledge immediately brought compassion and love to my heart and my own behavior towards her changed.
So maybe we can't change the world and make everyone be nice, but we can do our part to stop it from being passed around like an infectious disease. Whether we make up reasons for others unkindness or we take the time to learn the real ones, understanding is a key element to kindness. "He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly" (Proverbs 14:29).