Spend a day in our current society and you might be tempted to think that good manners, chivalry, and etiquette are elements of a bygone age. A recent survey concluded that over half of all Americans believe we are living in a much ruder society as a whole.
Good manners are basically known as civilized behavior, and as such should need little in the way of introduction. You stand when a lad enters or leaves the room, preferably holding the door for her in the process. You preface requests with “Please” and acknowledge gracious actions with “Thank you”.
Emily Post, the original manners guru, said that manners should be more than taught behavior, but rather an ingrained part of who you are, flowing as effortlessly as breathing, and allowing you to carry yourself with grace, dignity, and respect for yourself and others.
Unfortunately, manners are also based on a concept that has fallen out of favor in today’s society, namely the practice of being selfless, and considerate of the needs and wellbeing of others. Somehow, putting others before yourself is not an idea that is routinely embraced by most Americans in this day and age.
I have been in restaurants and heard burps that were barely contained, if at all, heard cell phone users who speak loud enough to ensure that everybody in a twenty five foot radius can clearly hear their conversation, no matter how inappropriate the details may be, and seen people who felt that profanity laden tirades were apparently perfectly acceptable behavior, even in public places. This author actually had to call down two guys at the next table in Golden Corral once, because they had no language filter and there were words I was not ready to explain to my kids yet. To their credit, they graciously agreed to tone it down and I got to keep all of my teeth.
Manners are largely about exercising a measure of restraint. Keeping some things to yourself, and recognizing that it is in fact possible to have an unexpressed thought, all of these are ideals to be adopted and lived to the full.
There is a time to think of yourself, and a time to think of the other person. The time to think of the other person is when they are in your presence. Defer to them. Allow them some comfort and peace in your presence. Don’t go off on a tangent and expect them to come along and share your enthusiasm. In short, don’t be a bore. At least make the attempt to do and talk about those things that will be of mutual interest to both parties. You may not always succeed, but even the attempt will be appreciated.
Learn the concept of tact, knowing what to say and more importantly, what NOT to say in a given situation. Your wife may be a little heavier at 50 than she was at 20. It is okay if you notice this. It is not okay if you bring it to her attention. You may also wish to discuss dancing or cross country marathons, but probably not if the person you are talking to is in a wheelchair.
Unfortunately, it is far easier to be rude than it is to be polite. Just watch two kids playing sometimes and you’ll see what I mean. It always reverts to lowest common denominator reasoning, especially when trying to handle disagreements (I think my favorite overture was “Lunchbox head!”). We have to work at it, to make a conscious decision to do the right thing. Over time, doing so will result in more ingrained and habitual behavior.
So go ahead, hold the door for a lady, let someone in ahead of you in traffic, and be sure to say thank you if someone does the same for you. Resist the urge to monopolize the conversation by going off about the bad day you had, but rather let someone else talk up the great one they had.
Of course the problem is that your good works are not likely to be returned in many instances. I’ve let people in traffic and they still gave me the finger, and I’ve held the door for ladies who proceeded to look at me as if I had sprouted a third eye. But it does nothing to take away the good feeling that come from knowing you did the right thing. Who knows, maybe if more of us do it, the more of us will catch on. And won’t you feel dandy?