MANNERS

“After you. No, after you. No, I insist, after YOU.” That was the essence of a famous vaudeville routine in the early 1900s by Alphonse and Gaston that was based on a comic strip of the same name. Sounds trite today, but it raises the question: Where have manners and politeness gone? What has happened to the courtly gentlemen and proper ladies of yesteryear? Who are the present day Cary Grant, David Niven, Audrey Hepburn and Katherine Hepburn? In my opinion, we have, for various reasons, become a less polite society. People have generally become more narcissistic and less tolerant of others. For me, the turning point was the 1960s and the breakdown of respect for authority, which was fueled primarily by young people’s anti-war protests, and the trend has continued.

For example (and forgive me for using generalizations, which I realize, by definition, do not apply to everyone):

1. Respect for authority – Children are less respectful of parents, teachers, and others (older people and symbols of authority, such as police officers). When I was a boy we called adults “Mr.” and “Mrs.” I didn’t even know the first names of my parents’ friends or the parents of my friends. We didn’t disrespect teachers. Now, kids actually beat up teachers! We didn’t talk back to coaches and game officials. Now, parents not only berate coaches and game officials (who, in many cases are kids themselves and volunteers to boot), but they even fight with them. Guys, remember how much fun we had playing sports by ourselves, without parents watching our every move and yelling “advice” at us?

2. Attire – This is not even close. Fifty years ago, people dressed more neatly and, yes, respectfully. Men wore suits to white collar jobs. That’s where the term “white collar” originated. Men even wore white shirts and ties to baseball games. Just look at the old films if you don’t believe me. Male teachers wore a tie and jacket, and, by the way, air conditioning was not common. Yet, somehow people managed. Women did not go out in public dressed inappropriately. Kids dressed respectfully and properly in school. A student exposing his or her midriff and/or cleavage was unheard of! In contrast, ask any teacher how the kids dress in school now. For example, my wife, who is a teacher, told me a story of her principal meeting with a parent to discuss how inappropriate and provocative her daughter’s clothes were. He knew the meeting was for naught when the mother walked into his office wearing the same skimpy attire! When businesses permitted casual business attire, many people had no clue what to wear. They would often come to work dressed as if they were going to wash the car or do yard work, and their clothes would be wrinkled as if they had slept in them. Furthermore, some people don’t even dress up for church, weddings or funerals. To me, that is the height of disrespect.

3. Politeness – Many people have forgotten the words “please,” ” thank you,” and “you’re welcome.” Women, how often do men hold the door open for you anymore? I believe that rudeness is catching, like a virus. People feel that if you’re rude to them, they can be rude right back. Driving can be hazardous to your health in more ways than one, e.g. road rage.

4. Noise – Ever have the pleasure of listening to someone talk on their cell phone? They talk as if the other person is deaf. What makes them think the whole world is interested in their inane conversation. Quick story. Once, my wife and I were on an Acela train in a “quiet car.” Apparently, this one oblivious passenger didn’t get the memo, as he was talking on his cell phone in a voice loud enough for all the other passengers in the car to hear. Finally, I had to ask the conductor to tell him either to stop or move, which, thankfully, he did. At least with the advent of ear plugs we don’t have to listen to loud music on boom boxes anymore. Remember them?

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

As I said, we have become a less tolerant and friendly society. I’m not sure of the causes, but I feel strongly about the result. Moreover, I don’t see the trend reversing itself. I think we are all lesser for it.

I would be interested in your opinion and experiences.

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