Bad Manners Equals Bad Politics

by Kerry Lutz
Financial Survival Network

The Oxford dictionary defines manners as, “Polite or well-bred social behavior.” America should be mourning the death of manners and common courtesy. Once upon a time, manners were taught and ingrained in schools and at home. Discipline would often be imposed for serious transgressions. Unfortunately, successive generations have downgraded the importance and the need for them.

At a young age, my parents introduced me to such considerations as holding the door for those following behind you, keeping one’s elbows off the table, not picking my teeth at the table or grabbing food with my fingers. It was drummed into me that my hands and fingernails should be kept clean and well-manicured and my mother would also glare at me when I took large bites of food or belched in public. Such things were just not tolerated in our household or in the civil society of the day.

As a parent, I was mostly successful in impressing these same values upon my children While they are well-mannered adults, some things just didn’t stick. I would often threaten my oldest daughter with mandatory charm school attendance. Years later, she begged me to send her there as she realized that some of her social graces were not up to par. I replied, that as an adult it was up to her to figure it out.

Why are manners/common courtesies so important? The answer lies in what should be our collective desire for the attainment of a civil society. What does such a society look like? It is a place where people extend to each other basic courtesies and a minimum level of respect. Once upon a time it was expected, but now it’s a shock when it happens. When a stranger infrequently holds the door for me, I thank them profusely, because I believe it’s a practice worth supporting and preserving.

It’s incumbent upon all of us to do everything in our power to encourage good manners in others. Whether it’s a street person following me through a doorway, or a young lady who’s having trouble carrying her packages, I always offer assistance. When we fail to extend such courtesies to one another, we lose mutual respect and our daily existence becomes a less happy and cheerful one. There is a basic human need to be treated with kindness and dignity.

This point was recently driven home to me, when I held the car door open for a friend. Sadly, she informed me that her ex-husband had never extended such a courtesy to her, let alone pulling out her chair at a restaurant. This is a virtual slap in the face. Proper manners are a required part of the social contract and our relationships with others.

It is said that prison inmates are some of the most well-mannered people on the planet. Why? Failure to observe such norms can result in immediate death. When two inmates accidentally bump into one another, apologies fly. Perhaps the biggest reason why non-incarcerated individuals should exercise good and proper manners, is because the thin veil of civilization, which makes our existence tolerable, is fragile and requires regular reinforcement.

The vast societal breakdown in manners has gravely affected the quality of our political discourse. When both parties to an argument show good manners and express common courtesy, a likely meeting of the minds is greatly increased. At the very least an agreement to disagree can be had, which leaves open the chance of finding future common ground. Even when there is no possibility of agreement, the parties usually part on friendly terms. However, lack of manners can end in violent disagreement. Coming to blows will often be the end result.

Perhaps the elimination of the duel speeded up the civility decline. In earlier times, disagreements about bad manners and slights of common courtesy were sometimes settled in the dueling square. Prior to the faceoff, apology and reconciliation often occurred. However, if the recalcitrant parties couldn’t make amends, then dueling was inevitable. The number of duels ending in one of the parties death was quite small, but it underscored the often fatal nature of bad manners. And it put an unacceptable price on boorish behavior.

Certainly, I’m not advocating the return dueling. It just an example of how seriously our ancestors took their manners/courtesies.

I long for these bygone days where good manners and common courtesy were the rule and not the exception. These often-unwritten behavioral codes were essential to our common social interactions. Is there a way back to civil society? One can only hope.


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