February 24, 2014

Are we forgetting how to behave?

When was the last time someone said “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” and “excuse me” to you all in the same day?  Okay, let’s lower the bar.  When was the last time someone expressed three out of four of these courtesies to you in the same week?  Still no takers?  Unfortunately, I’m not surprised.

Something is happening to our manners and it ain’t pretty.  Call me old fashioned, but if a favor is being asked, I believe it should include a “please” or, at the very least, a “thank you.”  And attending to their request shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion.  If someone bumps into me hard enough to slosh the drink in my hand or walks in front of me so close it cuts me off, I would like to hear the offender say “excuse me.”  I don’t think I’m asking too much, especially when it requires so little from the other party.  Anymore, people who do remember their manners stick out like sore thumbs.  Since when did being polite and decent become the exception?  What a shame.     

Columnist for the Miami Herald and 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary Leonard Pitts writes often about the rudeness that exists in today’s culture.  Rudeness, he says, is a choice.  He feels the loss of common courtesy is reaching record levels across the nation and it’s time to rethink what we value so we can correct our course while there’s still time.  I couldn’t agree more. 

All too often I hear people state their requests and favors as demands.  Conveying gratitude seems reserved for extraordinary times, if it is even conveyed at all.  And, more than ever, there seems to be a strong sense of entitlement that is, frankly, appalling and misplaced.  Where does this attitude come from?  Can it be attributed, as some sociologists might suggest, to a specific generation’s overcompensating parenting style or is this fracture in etiquette the cost we pay for living in a fast-paced culture of instant gratification?  What do we gain when we lose our manners? 

Neill Library has 129 titles about etiquette, courtesy, and manners.  Publishing dates run from 1968 to 2014 and many different perspectives are offered.  Some titles like Gelett Burgess’ Goops and how to be them: A manual of manners for polite infants seem a bit extreme.  But others are more mainstream like Judith Martin’s Miss Manners’ basic training or Whoopi Goldberg’s Whoopi’s big book of manners.  The collection spans decades but each title shares a common point: being courteous to others conveys respect.  Being respectful and being respected both feel good.  And don’t we like feeling good?  Sounds like remembering your manners is a win-win for everyone.

I’m not naïve to the ups and downs of life.  It is not all sunshine and sparkles; bad days happen to good people.  The point is to become aware and make an effort.  And when you forget and behave like a boor, here are two other important words to try out:  “I’m sorry.” 

Please visit http://leonardpittsjr.com/ to learn more about Leonard Pitts.  Thank you for reading this article and I’m sorry if I have offended anyone.  If, on the other hand, I have inspired you to re-evaluate how you interact with others and make some positive changes in your own life, then you’re welcome.

Joanna Bailey

Library Director, Neill Public Library
2/22-2/23/14, Moscow Pullman Daily News

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