There’s a restaurant we like to eat at that has a small video arcade in the back room. Its existence enables my husband and I to enjoy a quiet beer together while our children enjoy their video adventures. The downside, of course, is that the machines require frequent replenishment. The last time we visited, my daughter, in her excitement to get back to her game, grabbed the dollar I was pulling out of my wallet. “Manners,” I reminded her and she looked at me as only her 10-year old redheaded self can and communicated exactly what she thought about my admonishment. I knew what she was saying, I used to give my mother that same look.
Now that I find myself teaching those same rules I once thought so crazy, I believe that the world would be far better off if we all just remembered our manners and what Elizabeth Post states is the cardinal principle of etiquette – thoughtfulness. And if we remembered that thoughtfulness “implies a concern for the effect of our actions on those around us.”
Recently, I was reading Robert Littell’s The Once and Future Spy and there at the end of Part 2, chapter 10 was a section on manners. His character, The Weeder, quotes the Provincial Congress’s instructions for raising an army during the Revolutionary War: “Let our manners distinguish us from our enemies, as much as the cause we are engaged in.” Manners is understood in the old sense of the word – as a reference to the moral aspects of conduct.
And this I believe, that if we all, including and perhaps especially our government, remembered our manners we would not be in the quagmire we presently find ourselves. If the Bush Administration followed the Provincial Congress’s instructions and let its manners distinguish it from its enemies, we would not be holding hearings about going against the Geneva Conventions so that we might torture our prisoners. If our government remembered that thoughtfulness, the cardinal principle of etiquette, implies a concern for the effect of our actions on those around us, the American people would not have been lied to, and men, women and children would not be dying half a world away. If we all were concerned more about the effect of our actions, our globe would not be warming, hundreds of species would not be facing eradication and humanity would not be heading towards years of increased drought, famine, flooding and illness.
In the 1922 edition of her etiquette book, Emily Post wrote, “Beneath its myriad rules, the fundamental purpose of etiquette is to make the world a pleasanter place to live in.” Think I might send the updated version to some people I know. Oh, and Thank You for listening.
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