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Whatever happened to politeness?

What happened to politeness?

I was not surprised to hear that slower runners competing in the 2019 London Marathon were treated to verbal abuse from people involved in the clean up operation. Many runners aiming to complete the race in under 7 and 8 hours were reduced to tears as contractors and race stewards told them to “hurry up” and abused them with comments like “if you weren’t so fat, you could run”.


Whatever has happened to our society and social values? Why do some people think that this is acceptable behaviour? Why do some people fail to realize or simply don’t care about the negative impact that their actions or words may be have on people?

We are a long way from the era of the eighteenth century when politeness was regarded as a virtue above all others. The essence of that bygone age is far removed from today’s world. Two hundred years ago your social status as a human being was not determined by your wealth, your car or material possessions. Neither was it determined by your social media ‘likes’.


Back then your status as an individual in society was determined by things like your physical appearance, your level of refinement, dignified behaviour but most importantly politeness. Social historian Amanda Vickers explains that “politeness demanded that people should make themselves agreeable to others, to give pleasure as well as take it”.

Whilst I would expect better from race marshalls and people actually being employed by the race organisers, it is not a surprise to me that the abuse was dished out by people not participating in the race – i.e. ‘non runners’. On the other hand, I would have been shocked to hear of fellow runners behaving in this way. And that’s because runners never abuse other runners. But why is this?

Well it’s not just because runners understand and appreciate the courage required to complete any marathon. Showing consideration and politeness to others is part of a runner’s DNA. It’s not a big deal for us – because it’s completely natural.

Running keeps us grounded. Running helps us to see and appreciate what is really important in life.

When runners pass in opposite directions out on a training run it is natural and normal for runners to show encouragement. This could be in the form of a smile, a nod, a wave or maybe even a few friendly words. It’s called politeness.

For runners politeness is not an old-fashioned value, but a life skill that extends beyond running. It’s a quality within us that improves relationships with others, builds respect and makes social connections rather than create barriers.


Those people shouting abuse at slower runners don’t get this. The sad thing is that people who hurl abuse about (no matter what the situation) are missing out on an opportunity to improve their own self esteem and confidence. It is the breakdown in communication skills of these people and our society in general that should be called out.


For these people are the ones that are really slowing down the human race and pulling us down – not the runners achieving great things by completing a marathon. Politeness during our day makes us better runners and better people and helps everyone live a better life.

As runners – we already know that.