COLLECTIVE LAPSE Many of us are losing the ability to engage in pleasantries and even our basic manners.
An Cailín Rua
Have good manners disappeared down the drain?
Numerous studies conducted in recent years would suggest they have. Most notably, research conducted by the University of Sydney and published in 2018 in the Royal Society Open Science Journal found that people are abandoning saying please and thank you, particularly in social settings. Here, familiarity is among the factors contributing to the fact that it is no longer the social norm to express gratitude.
This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that has held a door or let someone out in traffic recently; the lack of an acknowledgement for a small pleasantry can just be a bit infuriating.
A teacher pal has lamented of late the lack of basic manners in her primary school pupils, many of whom, she suggests, have never been taught to say please or thank you in the home. In fact, it’s as much as she can do to raise a grunt of acknowledgement when she greets them in the mornings. It wouldn’t have happened in our day! But to say that unmannerliness is confined to younger people is a gross misconception, some of the rudest people I’ve ever encountered were old enough to know better.
What’s behind our collective lapse into ill-manneredness? Well, it’s possibly a product of the society in which we live, where so many of our interactions happen through our phones, leading to an unprecedented level of disconnection. Perhaps people are so used to interacting on social media that they don’t bother trying to interact properly in real life. If the comments on social media are anything to go by, that theory rings true. Even the way in which people address questions or queries to influencers online can be laced with entitlement; lacking pleasantries or pleases.
Hands up who’s sent a handwritten card or note lately? I will put my hands up and say that I am absolutely guilty of relying on the digital thank you on text or email to convey gratitude. Maybe that just doesn’t cut it.
Another thing I am terribly guilty of is being welded to my mobile phone, but I recently read something that suggested that every time you pick up your phone in company, it tells your companion that they are less important than a lump of metal and microchips. That hit hard.
Perhaps teaching the basics isn’t as much of a priority at home as it was in the past. However, even virtual assistant Alexa expects a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, so tired is she of our uncouthness!
There’s also the other extreme, and some ‘manners’ that could easily be consigned to the past. The immaculately groomed Bulgarian model Sofia Li shows her 2.2 million TikTok followers such tips as how to enter a room gracefully (never turn your back when closing the door), how you should never cross your legs at the dinner table (your ankles are fine, though) and reminds us that we should always knock gracefully before trying to enter a restroom or indeed, when trying to give a dilly-dallying occupant of same a gentle nudge. (For anyone interested, the correct response when receiving such a knock is “Just a minute!” but do try to not to delay that long.) Li’s videos are engaging, but solely directed towards women.
Happily, another TikTok user called John-Paul Stuthridge has taken up the etiquette mantle for men, with a series of instructive videos on chivalry, table etiquette and gym etiquette, and even a tip on jacket-buttoning (Sitting: unbuttoned; standing: buttoned). Stuthridge has a mere 90,000 followers though. Make of that what you will.
The napkin-folding skirt-smoothing world of etiquette feels a little bit old-fashioned and extra, when there are so many other important things happening in the world. And there is, of course, a difference between etiquette, which is really only a veneer on the surface of good manners, and manners themselves, which are borne out of a desire to show your fellow person that they are valued and appreciated and worthy of respect.
There are, however, many studies that show how behaviour influences attitudes. Maybe practising good manners – which cost nothing – would lead by default to us relating to our fellow humans in a kinder, more empathetic way? If so, more of it, please and thank you.