A Little Etiquette, Please
I am not one of those people who rejoices in etiquette. I’m someone who avoided a certain person at family reunions for about 15 years because I was certain I had forgotten to send them a thank you card after my wedding. I’m committed to etiquette enough to feel guilty when I don’t do it, but not committed enough to follow through. It’s the worst of both worlds.
Nevertheless, I do believe that simple politeness is one of the cornerstones of our society. Saying please and thank you, deferring to those who are older than you, offering to help a young mom struggling to get a stroller through a door, or an older person struggling with a walker — these are the things that keep our culture functioning.
They serve another purpose, too. They remind us that we are not the centre of the universe
And it even goes deeper than that. Our society has devolved recently so that we don’t just have political differences, we tend to dehumanize the other side. They’re not wrong, they’re evil. They’re beyond the pale. When we start thinking of the other side as evil, then it’s easy to believe that they don’t deserve common courtesy. We can convince ourselves that they deserve much worse than that. They should be lectured, hectored, or ostracized. We see this in much of political discourse today, even just at dinner parties.
When grown-ups behave like children
I was reminded of that when I saw a picture the other day, which made quite a stir in my home, Canada. Taken at the nuclear summit, the photograph shows US President Barak Obama lecturing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in front of reporters. Harper stands, head slightly bowed, hands in fists while Obama points a fingers at him as if he is scolding a child.
I don’t want to get into the politics of it, that’s not the point of what I’m trying to say. The point is this: it is tradition that one does not lecture or insult the democratically elected leader of an allied nation in public. Just like bring up politics or money at a family Thanksgiving dinner, or insult a host’s politics, or question their religion, you just don’t do it. It’s not polite. Instead, you’re supposed to give them the benefit of the doubt and give them the courtesy to save face. You’re supposed to keep your thoughts to yourself until a more appropriate time to bring them up.
Yet I have found lately that these once common courtesies are being thrown out the window. The only reason I can think of that President Obama would feel free to harangue Harper is that Obama truly thinks he is superior in some way, and that superiority means that he is no longer subject to the rules of etiquette. (Or perhaps he thinks that Harper is so far inferior that he no longer deserves of the rules of etiquette?) Etiquette keep us from becoming prideful. It keeps us from dehumanizing or judging others too harshly. It forces us to act humanely.
Recently, when I was shopping with my youngest daughter she said, “thank you” loudly to the cashier as we left and then said to me, “Honestly, Mommy, you never say thank you.” She took me aback. I thought I always said thank you. But I guess sometimes I mumble, or if I’m in a hurry, I don’t.
Increasingly I think we’re getting lazy about such matters of etiquette. While they may not fall into the same category as the situation above, if we don’t take care of the little things, we’re going to find ourselves in a mess of our own making. Our lack of humility will be apparent to all, and we will become boors.
I want to make it a practice to say “thank you” more. I recently bought some cards and I am going to start writing thank you cards–even to people that I don’t always particularly appreciate (in fact, perhaps especially to those I don’t always appreciate when I see that they have done something worthwhile). It’s part of recognizing the good in others, and recognizing the lack in ourselves. That’s what healthy societies are built on, and when we forget that, and just rely on our own self-image, we are heading on a slippery slope indeed.
This blog was originally posted on tolovehonorandvacuum.blogspot.com . Used with permission.
Do you struggle to remember to say thank you? What have you done to remind yourself and your kids that courtesy needs to be common?
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