Newsflash: If you aren’t trying to be polite, chances are people find you rude.
But who defines polite? The dinner table, once a school of social-emotional health, where many children learned to identify and express emotions and feel empathy,(1) has been usurped by overworked parents, over-scheduled children and fast food.
In addition to the loss of a shared mealtime, over the last three decades researchers have observed a rise in narcissism. College students are reporting an increasingly inflated self-esteem and a growing indifference to other human beings.(2)
“The characteristic that perhaps most distinguishes non-narcissists from narcissists is empathy,” wrote research professor Peter Gray, PhD.
Empathy is the essence of manners — of etiquette. Do you have empathy for those in your company, the desire to make others comfortable and to grease the wheels of social interaction?
Polite behavior requires the self-awareness to know how one’s own behavior is affecting others, for better or worse. Manspreading on the subway, the near extinction of thank-you notes, and the indiscriminate use of cell phones indicate a plague of self-preoccupation.
“Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present,” wrote George Washington in “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior In Company and Conversation.”(3)
Signs of respect change with the times, but the need for them does not. Should a man still stand when a woman enters a room? Should a woman leave a calling card when visiting?
The specifics of showing respect evolve, but the social imperative to make others feel comfortable and acknowledged does not.
One of my daughter’s friends comes by now and then in order, apparently, to be glued to her cellphone somewhere other than in her own house. At the kitchen table last week, I mentioned to the girls that I was starting a series on manners for work.
Said friend glanced up from her phone, smiled, and glanced back down. Tap-tap-tap-send.
Now, I don’t think the young lady was intentionally rude. I think she HAS NO IDEA that prioritizing your phone over human interaction, especially when a guest in someone’s home, is inappropriate.
I put on no airs here. Raised by an alcoholic mother who was fathered by an alcoholic, at age 14 I moved in full-time with my father, himself abandoned by his mother in infancy and raised by a gruff, cold father. We were not dining with the Vanderbilts. I did not attend cotillion.
My father was a soft-spoken, shy man who worked six days a week in his saddle shop. We ate our TV dinners in front of the television every night.
The extent of my education in manners occurred at a diner when I was about 6 years old. I was entranced by the sight of a person in a wheelchair, and my quiet father felt compelled to tell me, “It’s not polite to stare.”
I knew I lacked the what-to-say-when manners other friends had, so my manners are self-taught. Going to a fancy, private college helped. Growing up helped.
Trying to remain attuned to the needs of others helps. But there’s no hope of millennials discovering the social graces if they aren’t aware enough to know they lack them.
Millennials, allow me to school you in how to behave. Future articles will cover cellphone use, table manners, thank-you notes, polite conversation and workplace etiquette.
For now, I will leave you with the basics of cellphone etiquette from the next piece in “Manners for Millennials,” entitled “How to Stop Offending Everyone: Get Off Your Stupid Phone,” which boil down to this:
If you are in the physical presence of another human being, do not touch your phone unless the building is on fire.
Did you learn anything? Let us know.
Have suggestions for future articles on manners, or questions on proper etiquette? Email your inquiries to <![CDATA[
Reviewed July 12, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
1) The Medical Benefits of Family Dinner: Five ways eating together keeps kids healthy. ChildrensMd.org. Retrieved June 24, 2016.
2) Why Is Narcissism Increasing Among Young Americans? PsychologyToday.com. Retrieved June 24, 2016.
3) George Washington's Rules of Civility. NPR.org. Retrieved June 27, 2016.
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