Various dictionaries define manners as, “a way of acting, bearing or behavior;” as, “the socially correct way of acting: etiquette;” or as, “the prevailing customs, social conduct, and norms of a specific society, period, or group.” Many of those currently engaged in this topic see manners as a way of showing respect and courtesy to others.
What stands out in these definitions is that bit about “the prevailing customs, social conduct, and norms of a specific society, period, or group.”
Have we, as a society, decided that the new custom of social conduct is to not place emphasis on engaging in positive manners or social etiquette? Is it better to just be in it for oneself because we are too busy to behave in a fair and respectable manner to others? Years ago I became concerned about changes in how people felt about this topic when I was told by a colleague that when growing up they felt undue negative pressure to engage in mannerly behavior toward others and so made a conscious decision not to pass on, “those archaic ways,” to their offspring. Now, to be fair, that didn’t mean their children were actively disrespectful. Rather, it was more on the etiquette side of manners in that they weren’t asked or expected to respond to people in such ways as “yes ma’am or sir” or “please or thank you.”
This issue is now reaching the work force as it’s fairly common to hear companies complaining about how those who are being considered for jobs or hired don’t seem to have the most basic understanding of courtesy toward others.
So, are we going to move toward a society where increasingly we don’t seem to care about how we act toward others? Admittedly, it’s hard to believe that we don’t all want to be respected and shown at least the minimum of courtesy in our daily lives, but maybe it’s all about getting respect from others while not feeling a need to show respect to others. Admittedly, to be willing to show respect and courtesies does require recognizing the right of others to be respected.
While there are all kinds of ways people can show a lack of respect or courtesy – some minor, some major – it’s really more about how your actions or inactions are making others feel. It does require paying attention to what’s going on around you, which is hard for people as they are increasingly wired to their cell phones, iPods and other technical gadgets. I was reading an article that quoted Pier Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, that basically said manners allow us to interact with one another in our everyday behavior and as we started living in larger groups it was required to think not just about yourself but about others to keep the group from falling apart.
So, is it a big deal? I can’t say for sure, but I do wonder if, when people can’t show the smallest of courtesies to others, can we believe they would do so with bigger issues or when working with other groups trying to resolve differences. As I see our population growing I wonder about our ability to resolve differences if many of us have difficulties showing respect or courtesy to others, and I find that worrisome.
Hopefully, this is just a momentary blip in our social interactions. I do still see people acting in a positive way toward others. In fact, at a recent event here, the Make One Take One program, I was very impressed with the young people who came and how they interacted with others – both youth and adults.
Thought for the day: “Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners” —Laurence Sterne
Have an idea you’d like Mike to consider writing about? Want more information about these topics? Call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at email@example.com.