A Day in the Life ScenariosHuman Interest

MANNERS: WHAT’S HAPPENED TO THEM?

The dictionary defines manners as “social comportment, ways of behaving with reference to polite standards.” Basically, manners refer to the way people treat each other. Based on the customs prevailing at the time, standards of behavior are established. Do people treat each other kindly and with respect, and do they allow other people to take their turn first? Do they follow the mores and the accepted ways of living of the time? Do they consider another person’s comfort and feelings before their own? If the answers to these questions are “yes,” that person displays good manners.

Manners are exhibited by people every day, in every activity in which we participate. Driving the car, walking down the street, standing in line, checking in at a restaurant or ticket booth, and conversing with others are just a few of the hundreds of opportunities we have every day to exhibit manners or, more importantly, the lack thereof. Manners enable us to get along with each other. It’s an expression of one’s selflessness—how we care about the comfort and welfare of someone else, defer to them, and deny ourselves the chance to be first. Manners are a demonstration of “proper” behavior, and tell others we want to be treated the same way we treat them.

My mother spent the formative years of my life teaching me the manners of her generation. They became the standard of behavior by which I lived my life growing up and in adulthood. I never considered manners stuffy or antiquated because they helped me treat people fairly and politely. It showed other people that I thought their comfort was more important than mine. But at some point in the past 50 years, manners did become stuffy and antiquated and began to be ignored by many people.

My impression is that at some time in modern history, one’s personal feelings became more important than the feelings of others. Psychologists became concerned about people’s self esteem and how the lack of it led to unhappiness, isolation, underperformance, and even depression. We were told to think of ourselves first. We were told to assert ourselves because if we didn’t we would be overrun by those who show aggressive behavior and assert themselves. A “Me first” attitude began to prevail. 

A selfish generation then developed. What was important to oneself was more important than the wishes and desires of others. So what if the other guy’s feelings are hurt. You did what you thought was right, and you feel good about it. Your “self-esteem” has been boosted because what you did made you feel good. 

Every day, as we live our lives, we see examples of selfishness and bad manners. What follows are a few of those examples. 

I thought it was my turn to go at the 4-way stop? 

I’m driving 10 miles an hour over the speed limit! Why is the guy behind me following so close?

The guy in front of me must be from another city. Why else would he turn his left turn signal on just as the light turned green?

Why did that guy in the Camaro just give me the finger?

The two-lane road just narrowed to one lane. Why is that truck racing me to the narrowing?

I was in line first. How did the guy in the blue jacket get ahead of me?

Why is the lady in line behind me so fidgety?  She keeps bumping into me.

The doctor just came in and started talking. He never introduced himself.

Did you see how that guy ate? He left his hat on and had his left elbow on the table the whole meal!

Every time that waiter came to our table, he just barged in and interrupted our conversation.

That guy behind me in the movie theater had his feet on the back of my seat the entire movie!

I don’t want my food to get cold so I’m going to start eating. Sorry your food isn’t here yet.

That guy zipped in the parking lot after I parked and just about ran into the shop. He got there first so I had to wait. I hope he feels good about himself!

These are just a few of the millions of examples of rude and selfish behavior many people exhibit today. Manners be darned! Manners are for wimps. If I don’t do it faster or first, I don’t get my way or I might have to wait! Me first. I feel better because I won that mini contest. Nobody will take advantage of me! I’m better than you and my ego proves it.

Nowhere are manners more ignored than on television. Examples of rude behavior are everywhere. My teachers and my mother always taught me, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Cable TV show guests and commentators apparently have never heard this axiom because they denigrate other people all the time, interrupt one another, and talk over each other. It’s a very bad example for everyone, especially impressionable young people.

Who teaches kids manners these days? I don’t think anyone does. When I see other adults behave rudely, I know it’s not them. Their mother failed in her efforts or didn’t try at all. 

What will become of decorum? There are right and wrong ways to do just about anything. Critics, of course, say that what I think and do is just my opinion. They think my way is wrong and theirs is right. There have to be standards of behavior so that people get along and society has order. Not everyone accepts those standards, though. An ever-increasing percentage of people reject these standards altogether. 

What’s wrong with letting the other guy go first? It won’t bruise your ego. What’s wrong with saying “thank you?” It’s the mannerly thing to do. What’s wrong with listening and not speaking until the other person is done talking? What you have to say can’t be that important. Is it really necessary to keep your hat on during dinner? There’s room for it on the seat of that empty chair. What’s wrong with standing up when someone, especially a woman, enters a room? It’s good manners to show respect. 

Opening doors for others, helping your wife get seated, giving up your place on the bench so someone else can sit, opening a door for another person, and extending your hand to help someone cross the street, are all behaviors you rarely see any more. I’m as guilty of these failings as anyone. But we must not let kindness, courtesy, and mannerly behavior die. There need to be standards of proper behavior and interaction. The hard part, though, is getting people to agree on what’s right. Selfishness has to be eliminated, and we must consider the feelings of others more than our own. 

Being “other-oriented” is a tenet we must incorporate into our everyday thoughts and actions. Our self-esteem won’t suffer if we defer to someone else. In fact, doing a “good deed” should actually make us feel better about ourselves. My turn will come. My number will be called. I can stand so someone more needy can sit. 

Reintroducing manners into society is an uphill battle. So many people are self-absorbed that wholesale change will take awhile. However, I think good behavior is contagious. Showing good manners repeatedly gets noticed and may influence other people more than we think. Cleaning your own house first is a start. Then others may follow. It will make our world a happier place to live.

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2 Comments

  1. Dr. G,
    Loved your blog on Manners! Wish more folks would care about the comfort and feelings of others before their own! Sad that “manners” do not seem important today! Thanks for your thoughts, and I hope everyone who reads this will take it to heart!

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