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.”