I am in my early 40s and my generation was taught, in the words of US Supreme Court judge Clarence Thomas, that good manners and politeness open doors that the best education cannot. However, in recent times I have observed that basic manners such as ladies always going first, holding a door open for people, not using swear words, knocking before entering a room, offering tea to guests as soon as they arrive, spitting, chewing gum or pulling back a chair for someone are now considered to be old-fashioned and outdated. In a nutshell, being polite such as saying “thank you” or “please”, keeping elbows off the table or not using the phone on the dinner table are now considered boring and pretentious.
I cannot help but wonder why exactly people have developed little regard for having good manners these days. In my opinion, the kindness with which we treat each other will always matter. After all, it does not cost a dime to be nice, civilized and considerate. Traditional and modern etiquette is about respecting others; behaving in a socially appropriate way and about promoting harmony in society.
There are far too many arrogant so-and-so’s in today’s society who need to wake up and realize that life is not just about them!
Learning about etiquette was, thanks to my mother, not an intimidating experience. There never arose a need to send me off to a finishing school to teach me the basic courtesy and etiquette lessons – since my mother knew that was not the way to do it. She took it upon herself to inculcate in me how “cool” it was to be polite and that good manners never go out of fashion. My childhood memories are my mother teaching me proper table manners, as, according to her, I would be judged on my upbringing. No chewing with my mouth open, no talking whilst eating, asking whenever one required to be excused etc. We two siblings – a younger brother and I – were not allowed to leave the dining table without waiting for others to finish up as well. As a family, my parents made it a point to take us along and introduce ourselves to the neighborhood. Whenever crossing paths, even with strangers, we made simple eye contact and passed a smile. Manners involved being courteous, gracious and sensitive to other people, saying and doing everything we could do to make a good impression. We were taught to be kind to our elders. There is no such thing as an etiquette gene. I did not inherit it. My parents, especially my mother being a homemaker, inculcated these basic lifestyle habits in us.
But should we only blame these young people? I personally do not think so
The most annoying habit of some people in recent times is not paying attention to others around them. They have become so addicted to their smart phones and tablets that they do not interact with the person next to them, which is outright rude and offensive. Our younger generation is not observed to be courteous and well mannered enough to offer their seat to an elderly person or a pregnant female; they swear in general conversation; do not cover their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing; break queues; mock the less privileged or people of special needs; waste food with dinner plates piled up with edibles and do not offer any apology after doing something wrong. Another negative habit of our modern generation is browsing someone’s cell phone in their absence, breaching the owner’s privacy by going through their social media messages and scrolling through their photo albums without permission.
It is a relief, though, that millennials are a bringing about a positive change. They find littering in public spaces or roads offensive and check anyone doing so; they refrain from playing music too loudly or honking horns in residential areas as well as consider it inappropriate and inconsiderate talking loudly on public transport etc.
But is that all there is to displaying courtesy?
Consider an old lady struggling to grab her bags of shopping. Does anyone help? Almost certainly not! Someone’s car gets stalled at the signal light. Does the young man behind wait sympathetically or come forward to assist? No, they keep honking instead! That is the plight in our time; a lack of grooming of our youth, the modern generation exhibiting a lack of basic manners, etiquette and setting a bad example.
But should we only blame these young people? I personally do not think so. They are adrift because of their parents and teachers not focusing on the importance of inculcating social courtesies in their impressionable personalities. Merely imparting education will not serve any purpose until both “taleem” and “tarbiyat” are delivered at home and in school.
Counseling should be provided to dissuade people, especially the nation’s future, our youth, from indulging in bad manners – as rudeness renders one unpopular and thereby lonely. Ill-mannered people not only cause trouble, grief and distress to others around them but cause suffering to themselves too.
It is a relief, though, that millennials are a bringing about a positive change
Reading people’s minds is not that hard. When we see someone slam the door in another’s face, cut someone off in the middle of a sentence or shout across the room, we are likely to think, with good reason: “They have no manners”; “They should know better” or simply “What a loser!”
It would save ill mannered people from embarrassing situations if their behaviour is checked by family and teachers, and they learn to mind their manners.
To those who undermine the importance of good manners and etiquette, my contention is: what would the world would look like without a basic amount of respect?
Good manners and etiquette are an art, thankfully taught to my generation at home, from our grandparents and from our teachers. As a woman, what impresses me is a man around me who behaves in a gentlemanly fashion. A guy holding the door open respectfully for me in this day and age will earn more brownie points from me – it does not automatically suggest to me that he is a male chauvinist.
Simply put, at the cost of coming across as old fashioned, I would not want to be attached to someone who is rude and insensitive to other people’s needs. My belief is that respect, good manners and being treated well will always win out in the end – and help make the world a better place.
Good manners are selfless, not selfish. The crux of good manners is a behaviour that makes others feel considered, respected and comfortable. As the proverbial saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!”
The writer is an ex banker, blogger, freelance columnist, motivational speaker and runs a diversified aesthetic business. She can be reached at: [email protected]