The Erosion of Etiquette

To whom it may concern,

Some days I get the distinct impression we are barely putting up with each other and that conversation has progressed to where one person is speaking and the other is not really listening, they are merely thinking about what they are going to say when you shut up, with each member of society believing their world view is the right one. Thinking that only what they think matters and though they will sneer “what are you looking at?” they hope everyone is watching them. We are in desperate need of etiquette, which includes manners and ethics. For is it not true that the best of society is when it’s members show good form when communicating with each other, possess the instinct and not just the conscious obedience of manners and understand politeness and grace is far more to one’s advantage than being mean and rude? And that above all else should not members of a community have instinctive consideration for the feelings of others? We have come to believe that how we look, dress and act creates our personality but what is important is what we are, instead of what we appear to be. As it is we are so determined to be different we are all starting to look the same. Tattoo anyone?

What movie will we all watch or which book shall we all read this week? But then this is only one of many primitive instincts we still possess, as do most all creatures on the planet. The impulse inside of us that takes in information and responds without being aware of why we acted the way we do. As well as being oblivious to how it is doing it. We adapt the same behaviour of those around us, which influences things like what we do in our spare time, who one hangs out with and what we spend our money on. This innate impulse is the same reason why birds flock together, insects swarm and cows herd.  And yet the only difference between humans and all other creatures is that we have the ability to be aware of our actions and the ability to think about what we are thinking. But what is different today is that, as we densely pack ourselves into cities and have so much access to so much technology, we are communicating less with each other face to face. We seem to be so preoccupied with our toys, and when we do have to interact, we use the moment to just make sure only our point is made on only how we feel, which is unfortunate, because one of the things that makes life worth living in is the beauty of a shared moment with a fellow human being.

Wherever we are during our daily routine, whether driving, out walking or riding a bike, shopping, reading magazines and newspapers, watching television, listening to the radio or music or riding the bus we are bombarded with attitude. From sneers, derisive looks and remarks to arguing loudly, swearing and fighting. Our culture seems to now think that being inappropriate and unacceptable, angry and rude shows somehow that an individual is confident. But as mentioned earlier this should come to be no surprise, as we are only acting as the rest of the herd are. Instant gratification and personal empowerment has created outrage and a lack of civility. According to anthropology and humanities professor, Peter Wood, this all started with families, “when parents, instead of teaching self-control and self-restraint, began to teach their children that to be truly themselves they need to be expressive of what they feel.”, which has created many people, “who act out their sense of entitled rage; their belief that they cannot be authentically themselves unless they feel their anger and give it a voice; and that their version of the world can be brought to pass by sheer assertion of wrath.”

On the other side of the coin are the many others, who hopefully are the majority, who are getting tired of “attitude”, as well as others who, when they go out into public are open and needing to be friendly because of their need to receive a smile, simple thanks or a kind word from a fellow human being, which allows them to get through one more day.  It seems, ladies and gentlemen, that the only ones who really stand out in a positive way today, and always have, are ladies and gentlemen.

We are in desperate need to revitalize dignity, in ourselves and in our society, and especially in our leadership. If indeed having manners means having a personality, which is the outward expression of one’s inherent character and attitude towards life, then there are many people out there who don’t have much of a personality and probably don’t have much in the way of manners either.

Manners start with what’s called the Harm Principle, where no one should be forcibly prevented from acting in any way he or she chooses, provided their acts are not invasive of the free acts of others. There used to be much more importance placed on how to act when interacting with others, because each act and how we behave determines who we are. Each act becomes a part of our day and of our lives.

This has been so ever since we were small, individualistic and solitary tribes, where agreements were established to regulate the rights of the individual and the tribe. Formal and accepted usages and practises of social behaviour, rather than of nature, which were understood by each member to have a specific meaning when made by either of them.  Then when we began to gather in larger groups and became more sedentary, with an available and sustainable food source. To ensure the safety of the community, as we began eating, sleeping and living with ever larger groups of individuals, manners became safeguards in human interaction and represented conduct that keeps each person within the law and made civilized life worthy.  These laws would become well defined and rigid and became all about responsibility and accountability and order in our daily life. Everyone knew their place and were all expected to discover a place in the economy and to find meaning in family and children. The purpose of life was to live well and create a more secure and better world for future generations. Manners would become conventional wisdom and “the rules in the game of life.”

The American author, Emily Post, believed that, “the structure of etiquette is comparable to that of a house of which the foundation is ethics and the rest good taste, correct speech, quiet unassuming behaviour and a proper pride of dignity.” And that only an ignorant and shallow person would think that having any sort of etiquette and politeness is showing weakness and being timid, quite the opposite actually, because our daily habits reflect our deepest values.  Which are not what others think of us or how they treat you or from the scripts the media writes for us, but inherent values which create integrity, which itself breeds security as in having a sense of worth, identity, self-esteem and personal strength. This creates a noble personality, which is having an inner guidance, a source of direction in life based on references, standards and principles that govern how we make decisions in our daily lives and how we carry them out, one minute at a time. Having a noble personality is also about wisdom, perspective of life and having a sense of balance. It is also about understanding and that in society the “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” and that one should accept fair judgment and embrace perception and comprehension. And finally, a noble person has the power and the faculty and capacity to act. The strength to accomplish something by overcoming deeply embedded habits and having the energy to make choices and decisions.  An honorable person is honest, including about themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses and are not afraid to combine being vulnerable and competent. They are people who are willing to be unpopular and are always empathic towards others.

Researching this piece I came across George Washington’s 110 rules of civility, the works of Emily Post, as well as many other resources and though most of these lists are of admirable and just characteristics of a gentleman, they are also intended for the lady as well, along with her womanly charm.

Civil and decent behaviour is diminishing, fading by the wayside, as we run headlong down our separate roads, ranting and raving and not knowing why or even stopping for a moment  to catch our breath. If I may, I’d like to start with general everyday human interaction and conversation, shall we?

When meeting someone, male or female and especially when being introduced, shake their hand. Not too limp, nor too strong, but a handshake that has a feeling of both strength and warmth and always look the person in the eye as you do it, which shows respect. Let your handshake mirror your personality. This simple act began when many of us wore swords and/or carried a knife in our belt. Since most people are right-handed, shaking someone’s hand used to mean that you were understood as being civil and respectful, since you had your weapon sheathed. If you are sitting, stand up when being introduced or meeting someone. In acknowledgement of an introduction with a fellow human a simple “How do you do?” will do.

Because conversation should be an equal amount of give and take, abide by these four rules: think before you speak, think of whom you are speaking too, think of what you are saying and actually listen to who is talking to you and “Be careful to whom, what, why and when you speak”.

Try not to repeatedly repeat oneself for many things said that are of interest are told briefly and told for the first time. Do not let a conversation turn into contradiction and argument. Keep your prejudices to yourself and try not to ever tell anyone they are wrong or stupid or full of bullshit. Quietly saying, “No. I don’t think I agree with you” is far better than, “Your an idiot and so very wrong.”

Preaching has no place in society except in a textbook, classroom or pulpit and one should always remember that there are no regrets for things left unsaid and which would be uncalled for if said.

Do not pretend to know more than you do, for only the smallest of minds find it difficult to say “I don’t know.” When someone asks you a question you don’t want to answer, smile and ask “Why do you want to know?”  Do not make fun of anything that is important to someone or laugh at another person’s dreams, because people who don’t have dreams don’t have much.  Do not contradict everything you hear someone say.

Most conversations have at least two sides of the story, sometimes even more, but as long as animosity and self-righteousness does not enter the picture and respect is shown, it stays a discussion and not a carousal ride of an argument.

Do not laugh or talk too loud in public. It raises the stress level in a group and most always draws negative attention. A lady or gentleman is never bombastic, egotistical, pretentious or overbearing but in no way does this make them servile either.  People who talk too easily usually talk too much and many who think they are very good conversationalists more often than not, become pests.  Do not speak evil of anyone not present. To keep friends, never slander anyone by speaking behind their backs and never speak of anyone present without having them overhear what you say. Try to not interrupt someone speaking; only the egotistical constantly interrupt. If you have to interrupt, do it politely with an “excuse me” or “I beg your pardon”.  At the same time, don’t slap people on the back in conversation and never touch a woman, anywhere, without permission. Don’t push, nudge or pat people.

Do not swear. If you swear a lot, it shows you don’t know enough words to express your thoughts. Personally, the occasional “pooh” or “effin” can actually express a lot and on occasion is  the perfect word to describe the moment, as long it’s not said in malice and often. But cursing usually sounds as crude and vulgar as it is. I also feel that when women swear, for some reason it sounds especially ignorant. So please be a lady or gentleman by learning words and how to pronounce them. Know what they mean by reading proven literary works and not just which books are popular. Start having a dictionary nearby and read it once in awhile. And remember that people who are perhaps less educated and prone to using improper grammar can also be brilliant, exceptional people, loved by everyone who knows them, because they are what  they seem  and nothing else.

One should be courteous and respectful in all oral, written, e-mail, cell phone and voicemail communications. Smile when answering a phone, whomever, will hear it in your voice. Any electronic communication such as the internet or e-mailing, one must always be aware that you can’t take back what’s in cyberspace. As to texters and twitters, you are on your own, literally, really and truly.

One of the most important traits one should have is the ability to listen in an open, non-defensive way. When expressing oneself always be honest and without blame and of course in any conversation allow the other person the space to also express themselves.  We influence others only when they feel you are actually listening to them, that you understand what they are expressing and that you actually want to listen. This is called empathic listening and doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with someone all the time, but you do fully understand them and what they are saying, emotionally and intellectually. On some levels this appears risky in that in order to have influence you have to be, to a certain extent, influenced to really understand. Yet reality dictates that those who gain the greatest opportunities and accomplishments are those that understand the concept of “we”, and use their minds to work selflessly with mutual respect and creative cooperation for mutual benefit.  Indeed, the people who count interpersonal relationships as being of the highest importance as to who they are, are usually the happiest, most satisfied and have good self-esteem. While people who say “that doesn’t interest me” or “that bores me” defines their own limitations.

How we communicate with each other is determined as such; 10% by the words used, 30% by sounds and tone of voice and 60% by our body language. Kind of disrupts the belief many have that they are communicating very well with their fellow humans by texting a coded language.

When interacting with others look closely at their whole face. Facial expressions of basic emotions, such as anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise and contempt are universal and shared by every human being on the planet. Look people in the eye when interacting with them and remember that a real smile is when a person’s eyes are smiling along with the mouth. These are all not only just signals of what is going on in our heads; they are also showing exactly what is going on in our heads. Above all else trust your intuition. In the first few seconds of meeting someone, intuition is the emotional reactions, gut-feelings, and thoughts that most times seem irrational, but more often than not are very rational and correct. Intuition happens very quickly, and triggers and influences our behaviour without even us knowing of such changes. One must judge using their instinct rather than just with our eyes and ears and to remember that perception is reality.

Many times we will get irritated with someone because we have miss-read them or have recognized something in that person that we don’t like about ourselves. Most all arguments between people are misunderstandings or hurt feelings, caused because we failed to read that person and ignored our gut-instinct. Those who relish arguing and contradicting on a consistent basis are usually fighting to retain a presumed position of power, frightened for their self-protection, stealing energy from others, and most always, will resist change. Unless the emotions of jealousy, irritation, envy, resentment, bitterness and blame are understood for what they are and we free ourselves from them, a person will never create or achieve anything and will only live a life of constant drama and power struggles.

Do not spit in public. Just like don’t pick your nose, chew your nails or pick your teeth in public either. If you have to cough, do it thoughtfully and in consideration of those around you.  When sneezing, sighing or yawning, do it quietly and put your hand over your mouth and/or turn away. Do not stare at or ogle someone. It is blatant psychological aggression and simply intimidating people for no reason. Avoid flattery at all times; it is far too easily read by others for what it is, which isn’t much.

In conversation never name drop and think it’s making you out to be more important somehow. Never mention what something you have costs. Do not flaunt your wealth if you got it. It should have nothing to do with who you are. Just because someone has wealth does not necessarily mean they are smart. Though they could purchase anything they do so desire, far too many feel they are also appointed experts in all things, including their prejudices of opinion, expert criticism, taste and judgement.  While the posers and the hoity-toity types who put on airs, within all classes of society, are mostly people who are blindly licking the feet of those above them while kicking at those below.

Avoid telling racial, off-color jokes and unkind gossip. One of the cruelest things to do to a person is to laugh at their mistakes.  Humour should never be malicious. The funniest among us know the tricks of putting a twist on a simple story, the use of tone of voice and the personality that is put into their story or observation. The best can make us both laugh and cry.

It goes without saying but always be polite, even to someone you don’t fancy that much. Don’t allow yourself to be dropped down to that level. Never lose your temper, it only shows you can’t control your emotions and in all cases you are just embarrassing yourself.  Having self control in difficult or dangerous circumstances is when one stands out over others who betray their emotions of anger, fear, hatred, embarrassment, enthusiasm and whoopee in public, which most always affects the sensibilities of others. Remember, the actions of individuals should only be defined as preventing harm to other individuals, not causing it.

Never allow criticism to become a condemnation of a person’s character, for we all live in glass houses and really shouldn’t be throwing stones. Criticizing a person’s performance is far different than showing contempt for someone. Any comments made from a higher level, thinking you are above or superior over others is an insult and shows disgust. Never exclude someone from your community by making them feel they don’t mean anything and are not even a human being.  Treating anybody like dirt only proves that the person doing the treating has not been that far from the dirt themselves.  It is said that with every negative experience, such as contempt, derision and mockery that we absorb, we will need five positive experiences to counter balance our emotional makeup and maintain our sense of self worth.

Never wear a hat at a dinner table and always wait until everyone is seated before eating. Never speak with your mouth full of food. Don’t reach across someone; always ask for it to be passed. Put down your knife after using it. Engage people in dinner conversation and be gracious in doing so. A true lady or gentleman always knows when it’s time to leave a party. Be grateful and always thank the host. When dining out, tip well and discreetly and only if it is earned.

Always appear efficient, honest and without reproach, even if you are not. Use the verbal graces; Excuse me and I beg your pardon, yes ma’am and no sir, please and thank you, I am sorry, I made a mistake and will you forgive me? Never let anyone see you looking at your watch, but be respectful of other people’s time. Be punctual at all times, because one of the greatest signs of respect of someone is simply being on time.  Always be aware of the consequences of your actions on others. “Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace and walk not on when others stop.”

We all should possess the meat and potatoes of decent behaviour and a person of good character, which is the inviolability of our word and to be incorruptible. Never make a promise you cannot keep and most importantly, before one can make and keep promises with others one must be willing to make and keep promises with themselves. When you give your word always deliver on it and never promise to deliver the impossible.

Any money borrowed without security is considered a debt of honor and must be paid without fail and as soon as possible. If not well off financially, do not sponge off others. Any debt should be paid off by as much as you can and to the best of your ability. Never discuss money or family affairs either in public or with simple acquaintances. If you can’t afford something don’t buy it. Never accept a bribe for it “distorts the words of a righteous person and blinds a clear sighted person.”

Honor one’s mother and father, do not murder, cheat, steal or testify false truths and do not desire for your neighbour’s house, belongings or wife or husband. If you are a habitual liar, you will not be trusted or believed. It is why there is so much dysfunction in many actors and actresses lives and relationships, because they spend their working lives as professional liars. They perform behavioural lies by becoming someone else, usually a fictional character. This no doubt is what causes most of the damage to their personal lives that they all seem to experience. They lose sight of their inner being and forget who they really are.

A true gentleman should always display actions of chivalry when it comes to being around the ladies. And though it’s not always appreciated or asked for, always open doors for them. Hold their coat for them when they put it on, help her with her seat, if needed; give up your seat for both a lady and the elderly. Always stand when a women enters or exits a room. Always ask if she needs anything and when walking, give her your arm, especially if she is wearing heels. If walking stairs walk beside or slightly ahead of her; on an escalator stand in front going down and behind when going up and when walking along a sidewalk the gentleman should walk on the outside, closest to the street. When walking down a dark aisle, the man should always go first.

In a relationship everyone must always remember discretion, honor and integrity. Do not kiss and tell. Keep details of one’s love life private and never break confidence. Never criticize your partner, in public or with acquaintances, no matter how scandalous and never treat your partner with disrespect before anyone. In a breakup or divorce never tarnish a partner’s name, for this is just tarnishing oneself and proves “you are not, was not, and never will be a gentleman or lady.” Do not use relationships to make you feel happy or fulfilled but instead use them to make you more conscious and aware of yourself. If one stays on the path of anger, jealousy, defensiveness and the urge to argue or need to always be right it will forever lead to pain, confusion, madness and violence. Always express thoughts and feelings to each other when they happen and do not leave them to time, for time is where the ego will distort the picture into unreal and ludicrous scenarios, building resentment and jealousy, which creates further problems.

Be aware of the energy we all possess. When two people meet and the sparks of romance fly, it is because both are giving out energy, thus both are also receiving energy. Far too often what happens is that one person decides they don’t have to give their partner this static energy anymore because they are receiving enough for themselves and what usually happens is that the partner still giving and trying becomes empty because they are no longer being replenished. This most always leads to problems, including confusion, resentment, argument and eventual breakup.

Never have sex with someone who does not desire to have such an experience with you, never force sex on anybody and never invite another to have sex who isn’t old enough, emotionally healed enough, mature enough or mentally stable enough to make such a decision. A person’s moral character, what type of person they are, is shown in their conduct during times of passion. While pornography is primal sexual release, when for a split second after you release, a little piece somewhere in one’s soul feels as though it dies. Reality is that sexual fulfillment is all about being in the moment, connection and intimacy. It is the opposite of what porn tries to be. Intimacy is being focused and in sync with your partner, where such things as respect, admiration, communication, trust, transparency, exploration, laughter, vulnerability and surrender come together. When two people become aware that two souls are, for a moment, becoming one; ” the experience is probably the closest we get to being in the realm of the divine.” Never, ever, say “I love you” if you do not mean it, but when you do love, love deeply and passionately and yes, one might get hurt but it is the only way to live life completely. Much like good manners, love should simply be courteous consideration of another person’s feelings and interests.  As to marriage the three things that most influence whether it lasts or not is faithfulness, sex and the sharing of responsibilities of the home.

As to health, we must be conscious of the health of mind, body and spirit. Many people are only concerned with mind and body; some are only concerned with being just a body. But one must tend to all facets of our selves, especially spirit, because without it lays depression, anxiety, fear, doubt, hurry and worry, agitation, restlessness and an unhealthy mind and body.

When attending a funeral have consideration for the family of the deceased. Never force anything upon people in grief and understand they will often not act like their usual selves. When coming into contact with someone in mourning, stop and press your hand with theirs and then move on and understand that in their presence one should put aside all consciousness of self, because service should be the only gift of value offered. And to realize a funeral is not about you or how loudly and unique you can dress; dress in the darkest and most appropriate clothes you have.

In regards to business, any exhibition or lack of etiquette and manners will reflect more on your chances to get a job then how magnificent you think your resume is. Bad manners usually prove that you would be unsuitable to represent the dignity of the job and the employer, while the person who succeeds displays proper etiquette and whose good manners imply consideration of the customers, the company and fellow employee’s interests, as well as their own. The more a person is empathetic towards different groups of people the better they do and the more people they are in sympathy with and understand, the more customers, associates and constituents they will have. To learn how not to act, especially if you an elected representative of the people, simply watch the dishonorable, passive aggressiveness, reticent and dispassionate actions of members of parliament, who do not speak for those they represent but abide by what their party tells them to do, say and act.

Never underestimate the power of presence, as in your demeanor and body language. Don’t slouch or hang your chin. Keep the back straight and shoulders wide. This does not mean puffing out one’s chest like a peacock; it’s just that, indifference breeds more indifference and the perception of inner confidence and strength breeds respect and power. Next time you are talking to a store clerk, show quiet, confident body language and good manners and you will surely receive respect in return.

Want to be a good parent? Do you want a more pleasant, confident and cooperative child? Be a more understanding, empathic, consistent and loving parent, much like if you want to be respected, show some. If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy.  The way a boy treats his mother is the way he’ll treat his wife.

If one fails in something do not fail the lesson. Take responsibility for what went on, don’t blame others or make excuses. Think about the choices you made and how they might have been done differently. Ask yourself if the failure happened because of a lack of skills that one could improve. If it was, improve yourself; seek assistance if you need to, constructive criticism and constructive feedback are always good and do not misjudge seeking help as being a weakness, it only shows a person who is willing to learn and change, forever moving forward. It is not what happens to us that hurts us; it is our response to what happens to us that hurts us.

David Brooks of the New York Times describes the four main causes of the demise of dignity as being; capitalism, where everyone is encouraged to become managers of their own brand and that whenever one does something good, fireworks, spotlights, loud theme songs, yelling “look at me, look at me” and high-fives all around is expected; the cult of naturalism, where we are encouraged to get rid of deception and repression, to liberate our own feelings to the general public at large; charismatic evangelism and how everyone needs to parade their degrading and intimate emotions in public and hopefully on television; and radical egalitarianism which creates hostility to aristocratic protocol, dress and the etiquette of ladies and gentlemen, even though these manners are all based on respect.

Where we go from here is only for us to decide, but if we don’t pass on such things as manners, civil, decent behaviour and dignity to the generations following us, they will no doubt lose the freedom of behaving according to their moral principles because their principles will be changed and will simply be programmed by someone else what they can and can’t do, say, think and act, controlled by either gun or cool-aid to prevent the chaos of angry mobs and violence. For this not to happen we must start to teach our children well.

Not exactly in a nutshell or a brief, attention span of a hummingbird, article, but there you have it for etiquette and manners. There is of course so much more out there but when it’s all said and done, civil and decent behaviour stems from just treating others how you would like to be treated. We must remember that good manners are truly universal. But it is something that must be taught, within each particular society. We become how we were raised and what type of culture and society we were born into. Other than that we all share the same basic emotions, with all our lives based on interpersonal relationships. We all laugh and cry. We all need to get along and we all need to be loved.

Being a gentleman and a lady or a good man or good woman  is someone who understands that they can project sympathy and understanding where and when they choose and feels in no way of having to lower any of their instinctive defences to behave this way. A genuine and sincere person can go anywhere and be welcomed by everyone they come into contact with; they are people of ability and intellect. They do not mimic the manners of others or tread on the sensibilities of those less fortunate than themselves.  It’s not magic or myth that those who give get much more in return and those who are decent and good people are wealthy beyond means in their relationships with their fellow humans and finally, reality usually dictates that good things happen to good people.

I conclude this article with Rule # 110 of George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility. I would like to also take this time to thank you for your time and patience.

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little celestial fire called conscience.”

 

 

 

Photo- Nicola Corboy-     http://www.flickr.com/photos/n_corboy/4921290518/

Post, Emily. 1922. Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home

AskMen – Men's Online Magazine

MANNERS FOR MEN–Part One

George Washington's Rules of Good Behavior

Manners for Boys: “Gentlemen” – An Endangered Species? | Googol Learning

Schachter, Harvey, A failure lesson from Lincoln, The Globe and Mail newspaper, November 7, 2011, Pg B7.

Brooks, David, The Regrettable Death of Personal Dignity, The New York Times, 2010.

Wood, Peter, A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now, Encounter Books, 2007.

Fralic, Shelley, Why is everyone so darn angry? The Vancouver Sun newspaper, February 24, 2007, Pg F4.

 

 

 

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