04 June 2012

No person in the world ever lost 
anything by being nice to me.
    - Lillie Langtry

What has happened to good manners? Yesterday, I responded with a private email to an online advertisement that offered a free item. I expressed my desire to take ownership, and asked for the address of where I might pick it up. I began with, "I read your post. May I please...," made my request, and ended with, "Thank you."

The free item in question was nice, so I've no doubt other people inquired after it, too. This morning, I checked my email for a reply. Nothing. I went to the website, and sure enough, the posting was deleted by the owner. Although I missed the item, what I miss even more is the courtesy of a simple "It's been claimed" in response to my inquiry.

I'm not sure when we stopped feeling it necessary to follow the most basic rules of social conduct. Make eye contact and acknowledge people you pass on the street. Don't interrupt or ignore people when they are talking to you. Offer your seat to a person who is not as robust or healthy as you are. Hold doors open for people who have their arms full. Say "please" and "thank you." Address elders as "Sir" and "Ma'am." Reply in kind to notes and letters that others send to you. Respect others, and maintain personal decorum. Extend courtesy and kindness at every opportunity. Obey the Golden Rule.

I remember the lessons. I remember that on each occasion when I failed to measure up, people who cared about me gave me reminders about where I'd fallen short -- some more stern than others -- and cautions that poor manners and disregard of others wouldn't get me very far in life. Peace in a community is based always in a willingness to conform to the norms of the society, especially when the norms reflect harmony and graciousness.

It's as if we've decided that we don't need to be nice to one another. We don't need to be polite. We don't need to be friendly or welcoming. We have the right to do just as we please, irrespective of anyone else's expectations or needs. When people reach out to us, we dismiss them, out of hand.

Excuse me. I need to send out a pile of personal thank you notes to people whose courtesy toward me has been greatly appreciated.



Zita said...

Take a look at those society has seen fit to proclaim "stars" -- a bully who screams and storms around a kitchen, a selfish young diva whose cache grows with each insult, or a self-absorbed jingle-writer who prides himself on having meaningless relationships.

I cringe at the commercials that encourage the main character to be stingy with his or her fries, or drink, or sandwich.

We can't make it cool to be selfish and wonder why people don't get along.

We can't make it cool to be a bully and wonder why we have a problem with bullying.

We applaud. It grows.

-mb said...

Just as there's an end to suffering, there's an end to incivility. It's going to take an effort, and I think the effort is absolutely worthwhile.

Thank you for your insightful comment, Zita.