Un-Common Courtesy

Emily Post said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, then you have good manners.” People today only seem sensitively aware of their own feelings. For the past 20 or so years, thanks to the push to build “self-esteem” in children, we’ve created a culture of proverbial monsters. You see it everywhere. People so self-involved they barely notice there are other people on the planet, much less have any idea they should care about them. They run into you without saying excuse me. They loudly curse in public places. They go around everywhere talking on the phone, even while at dinner with other people. I overheard a woman talking to someone on the phone while she was using the restroom!

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity in essence equated it with a God complex. He wrote, “The moment you have a self at all, there is the possibility of putting yourself first – wanting to be the centre – wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race.” It’s an interesting point. One that gives me chills, but what both Post and Lewis were driving at is if you care at all about others and how your behavior affects them, you’ll treat them with courtesy.

As I drove my children to ballet class the other day, a man in a pick-up truck, missing his driver’s side mirror and with two tires going flat, sped past me on the right and cut over into my lane barely missing my front bumper. He never signaled. He didn’t look. His right hand held a large smart phone up to his ear. His left arm lay on the open window. So, my question is: What was he using to steer? Ten years ago, that would have made me mad enough to spit. I probably would’ve called the police and given them his tag number. Now, it’s become so common place, I just shook my head and kept driving.

I drive like an old granny woman, as my sister would say. I do the speed limit. I signal. I look twice before I merge. I check my rearview mirror every couple of minutes because I like to know what’s going on behind me as well as up ahead. I keep both hands on the wheel. I drive this way not only because it’s correct and legal, but because I carry precious cargo, because I am precious to my family, and because other people are precious to someone, too. I am not the only parent on the road, and I’m not the only one carrying children. “Horrible” doesn’t begin to describe how I would feel if some action of mine caused the death or injury of my children or someone else. People today routinely drive with a reckless abandon that demonstrates their utter and complete disregard for anyone except themselves.

The lack of common courtesy isn’t just seen on the road or in the failure to use “please” and “thank you.” It’s infiltrated every aspect of life. People no longer hold the door for one another. Only older men ever stand and offer their seat to a woman. Once the generation of men born prior to 1970 die, I fear that particular custom will be extinct. Today, a young boy of about 10 was approaching me on the sidewalk. Just before we came abreast of each other, he dropped his bottle of water, and it rolled into my path. I bent, picked it up, and handed it to him. He took it without a word and kept walking. I was affronted, but, once again, just shook my head. The next time something like that happens, I’ll do the same. Perhaps my small act of courtesy will make an impression and be paid forward.

One of my greatest pet peeves is dress. It is not, nor has it ever been, appropriate to go out in public and conduct business in pajamas. Nor is it appropriate to attend an official ceremony in anything other than that which the formality of the occasion demands. My family and I attended a Memorial Day wreath laying ceremony. The stewards of the event and all the honored guests were dressed in full military dress or the civilian equivalent, but more than half the attendees were in shorts and tee shirts. It’s wrong. It’s disrespectful, and it’s rude, but that too has become commonplace. They filed down the aisle and took their seats with not a moment’s hesitation.

Jay and I took our children to the ballet recently. Jay wore a coat and tie, and the girls and I wore dresses. I even carried an evening bag. The usher who gave us a program actually stopped us to say thank you for dressing appropriately. He said, “People have no idea how to dress for an evening out anymore.” He  was sadly correct. The outfits ran the gamut from ripped jeans to full-length evening gowns. I am reminded of the scene from Sabrina, the original with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, where Sabrina refuses to go to dinner and the theatre with Linus because she’s wearing (gasp!) pants and not an evening dress.

My mother works for the government. She is a paralegal and daily comes into contact with judges and attorneys and on occasion goes to court, as do her co-workers. However, in her office, the dress code basically amounts to being covered. People literally come to work in all manner of dress, including pajama pants, flimsy tee shirts, and flip flops. My mother wouldn’t be caught dead dressed like that at work or anywhere else. She grew up in the era when little girls and women wore dresses and men wore shirts and ties in public. She dresses in business attire for work, just as she always has, but she was recently reprimanded for “setting the bar too high” by a supervisor three decades her junior who wore jeans, a tank top, and the requisite flip flops. I have difficulty wrapping my mind around that. How does an employee get chastised for looking too nice?

When I was a child, the way we dressed to go anywhere would today be considered dressy. I miss those days. I hate going to the store and having to stand behind someone with their pants so baggy their underwear is showing or worse, their backside. That actually happened recently. A man was leaning on the customer service counter at a store with his pants slid half way down his bottom. Another customer, a woman, went over to him and whispered something to him, and he pulled them up. He didn’t bother to apologize or excuse himself to her or any of the rest of us. Maybe it’s laziness. Maybe it really is plain old selfishness. Perhaps there is a general lack of pride and dignity in one’s appearance, but whatever it is that is causing such laxity among the populace with regards to personal grooming, it needs correction. As Woodrow F. Call said in Lonesome Dove, “I hate rude behavior in a man. Won’t tolerate it.”

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8 thoughts on “Un-Common Courtesy

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Michelle. Obviously I couldn’t agree more. The question is: How do we fix it without further legislating people’s personal choices? And therein lies the rub.

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      • I question whether some people are actually not brought up learning to act with common courtesy, proper etiquette and dress. Much like kids are not all learning cursive in school, “old-fashioned” ideals are going by the wayside, too. Unfortunately, this makes society impersonal despite our propensity for relying heavily on social media for connection to others. I once did a social experiment when I was walking with my family on a walking trail near our house. I greeted “hello” to everyone who passed (who wasn’t listening to headphones) and only a few replied right away, others were surprised and then replied and others didn’t say anything. Like you, I try to instill these values with my kids and hope others take note of them, too. I think if someone developed an “etiquette academy” there may be more people signing up than you might think.

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      • You’re correct. People aren’t learning etiquette anymore or even basic manners. When my mother was in school, etiquette was taught her home economics class, and she in turn taught me. This is no longer the case. There are still cotillion programs available in most large cities. In fact, I enrolled my daughter in one when we lived in Colorado. I found out about it because the program director sent flyers to the local schools. I see a problem in that the venue for such programs is usually the local country club, which insinuates that cotillion is for the privileged class, and the programs can be quite expensive. It would be nice if we could reintroduce such education into the school curriculum, but in a world where many schools are having to cut art and music to make ends meet for basic instruction that might be a hard sale.
        Social media is hugely detrimental to social interactions, in my opinion. I believe people are losing the ability to carry on a conversation, and writing skills are being eroded by the shorthand verbiage commonly used on such sites as well as in texts. Email, texting, Facebook, and Twitter are relegating social interaction to a virtual word where you only interact with “friends,” and the user has all the control over the “conversation” able to delete and “unfollow” at will. I believe this causes people to ignore the presence of the real people they encounter in the real world as well as preventing them from knowing how to properly interact with strangers face-to-face or even realizing that they should.

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  1. Thanks for these wonderful thoughts. Of course, me being of the same generation as your mom and dad, I agree with every point. Maybe most of our kids today get their etiquette training from the music they listen to and the many hours of tv they watch and video games they play. I recall my elementary teachers quoting Emily Post many times. Times sure are a changing. Now that you are writing again, keep ’em coming.

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    • Robert, thank you for your comments. I appreciate your regular reading of my blogs. You make an excellent point about influences. Young people today have celebrities such Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus as their role models. Lady Gaga wore a meat dress to an award show a few years ago, and I don’t think there is a description for some of the things Cyrus wears. But when kids see their favorite singer or actress wearing a see-through outfit or some outlandish concoction, I think it does send the message that there are no rules anymore in terms of dress, because in their minds, those are the people who should know. Of course television, music and video games have been in a downward spiral for years. People are constantly depicted as rude and disrespectful, and the behavior is treated as comical rather than hurtful, and the juvenile offender displaying the behavior is in no way reprimanded by the parents. There will have to be cultural change before anything will improve. We need a grass roots movement across social media, entertainment, and education to reintroduce traditional manners and etiquette. Enforcement will be different challenge altogether.

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  2. What a wise–and sadly true–comment on our world today. Makes me miss the ’70s, and when you consider that statement, you understand just how far society has fallen. Maybe your voice will makes readers stop and think about how they appear to others, and reconsider.

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  3. Thank you for your comment, Bobbie. It’s is indeed my hope and intention to help stem the tide of our cultural denigration. Your comment strikes me as funny because I just told my husband this morning that the I would prefer the 1960s over this mess. He and I are teaching our children a code of behavior that will be largely antiquated by the time they are grown if society does not change its current trajectory. It is appallingly sad.

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