Modern manners, codes of behaviour, decorum and rules of etiquette matter in every culture and society – they illuminate and respect the human experience. Observing manners when out and about in society is, and should be ‘cool’, even in a casual setting.
The tradition of honouring and respecting others socially, or culturally, is a matter of good form. While not immediately obvious, there are many forms manners take and simple ways of offering respect to each other; most especially to those younger or older than ourselves. It is all about established conventions of morality and about developing, and being sensitive to, a fine sense of decorum as they evolve.
Whether you agree or not the guidelines are there. They have been honed over a very long period of time as society has met morphed from being bullying brash, uncouth and uncaring to being bold, beautiful, courteous and concerned.
A common concern in the past and present is avoiding the embarrassment of social stigma. Obsessions about how we look, what we weigh, what we eat, what we are wearing, what others are wearing, how our hair is arranged, what restaurant we eat at and the modes of transport we choose would suggest that we have, as yet, not been released from such burdensome worries.
Etiquette implies an observance of formal requirements governing many types of behaviour in all societies and all cultures. Considering others should be simple, right and proper behaviour in any society, and under all circumstances.
Many people are asking what has happened in the last decade or so to good sense and courtesy?
Why is it that so many people seem to flounder about, offering continual offense to others? Why is it that some parents and teachers are not reinforcing good behaviour patterns in their children that make life pleasant for all? ‘
Becoming a parent is about taking on responsibility for another life until they are at a point when they can manage it themselves. Children need to understand how to be in-society, because it is important for their ongoing success and happiness throughout their life.
One thing I do know is that if children haven’t learned the common courtesies prior to being a teenager, then it becomes increasingly difficult as they grow older.
How we conduct ourselves in any arena should align. Hiding false behaviour behind a veneer of ‘being professional’ is never acceptable. And that is as true for a president, an executive as it is for a politician, a tradesman, a man in a mine, or a woman in a dress shop; it is also about respect of self and others.
Organized sport provides valuable team building experiences important for any child, as it means considering and respecting another’s point of view. It is good to see so many sporting bodies fiercely maintaining and reinforcing young players respect for each other. It helps children learn how to accept that others are different.
By value adding manners into the milieu such as remembering simply to say please or thank you, to stand up on public transport for someone older or in more need than yourself and yes, even opening the door for someone else.
Whether it is a man or a woman who performs this simple task or not it is all about courtesy, and really nothing to do with gender issues.
Those who make it so are just harnessing manners and illustrating to others they actually have none.
One habit that offends many in public is when people yawn or sneeze all over everyone else without covering their mouth. This action reflects a blatant disregard for others but most especially, it is about halting the spread of airborne diseases.
Picking your nose, spitting, urinating or farting in public, or being crass and coarse when you are out and about is always ugly. There is no two ways about it.
All of this might sound ‘nit picking’, which is another real practice among humans outlawed eons ago, and in many ways it is. But underpinning the details add up to our society on the whole being and remaining healthy and in harmony.
Then there is acceptable etiquette designed for contemporary use, such as that surrounding mobile phone use, which is still in its evolving process.
Technology has produced many tools for making our professional and personal lives easier, but they are just that tools that we can and should control.
Advertising that promotes turning off the internet when having dinner indicates that if you have to employ such a device, you have lost all self respect for your ability to make a decision and exercise self-control.
There is no excuse for people crossing roads still operating devices, putting their own and other people’s lives in danger. It is plain abhorrent.
Breaking societies rules will command respect, but only if there is a genuine belief you are not only doing the right thing but also not offending others. Having a mobile phone go off in the middle of a wedding or a funeral service, under any conditions is quite simply inexcusable.
Society is not easy today because there are more and more people on the planet. Considering others has become a reality part of the here and now, as well as the future. For those unsure of what the rules are it can seem daunting. The higher up the scale you go too they often seem part of a secret code understood by only a select few.
This is in many respects true as well.
As leaders in society move in ever-ascending spirals up the ladder of success they constantly re-invent ‘secret’ rules to test the mettle of those wanting to ride along with them, to join them and, above all, keep undesirable elements out.
Rising above one’s station in life, thankfully is now an outmoded concept in community. However in society it is still not admired.
In the 21st century, unless you bring along with you a fine set of impeccable credentials, a well regarded philosophy about life, an outstanding reputation and a set of good manners, you will find admission is not easy.
This is true in the corporate life of executives, managers and office workers, all of whom form ‘cliques’ within cliques. Those who do reach the top of the spiral don’t really relish the idea of rapidly going back down, so they will protect their position, sometimes at a very big cost. Accessing them once you are up there ‘where the air is so rarefied’ in reality, will also often prove difficult.
For those people who survived the Great Depression and World War II fear became integral to their lifestyle and their code was ‘survival’. Their children were brought up when confidence was returning and ‘self expression’ encouraged. It became a necessary skill to acquire to aid career success.
The Christian ethic had held sway for nearly 2000 years and long demanded obedience of the Law of Moses. The main tenets of faith-included ten rules that said we should honour our father and mother, not do murder, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness against our neighbour.
The really big one was ‘you shall not covet your neighbour’s house, your neighbour’s wife, his servants, his ox, his donkey, in fact anything that is your neighbour’s. This was all very serious stuff. Why? An ox and a donkey at the time were among a man’s most prized possessions.
The first was a beast for burden to help him earn his living; the second had strong legs and a stoic heart to carry him far.
So if we transpose that into something we might better understand today, we would say it was like someone stealing your identity and your precious possessions.
Then, and only then we might begin to understand how serious it was, and still is.
The law system governing western society were based on the first rules of society and remain relevant. Following World War II when man’s inhumanity to man reached a zenith, the aftermath saw enormous change in basic values such as how the rules governing politics, work, religion, family and sexual behaviour were re-interpreted and re-invented for a whole new age.
Many Christian laws and guidelines for societal behaviour from the 1960’s onward disappeared only to re-emerge as part of a new code for a new society, one that considered itself non-religious or indeed, sceptical.
During the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s the ‘baby boomer’ generation led rapid change. The period saw the rise of a so-called creative class, which contained thinkers, scientists, architects, engineers, artists and artisans.
All over the world they combined to transform every day life and the economies of our cities. They cast off their religious affiliations, set out to raise community spirits, attract investment in commodities, consumerism and economies and in just fifty short years changed the world.
According to leading American public intellectual and author of books about the ‘creative class’ Richard Florida, the cities that appeal to a ‘creative vanguard prospers best in an economy driven by inventiveness’.
Talent, technology and tolerance became the new black for the new age as did having an ability to make choices redefined how people behaved, made love and went to war. With wealth came a desire to enjoy other aspects of life, including ease of travel.
Being able to fly around the world in a day meant that parts of the world, about which little was known, were suddenly opened up not only to an influx of visitors, but also to public scrutiny on both a local community and global community scale.
Coming up close and personal with other cultures people had only read about in books, was in many ways a confronting experience for many people. Especially if they didn’t understand its language, specific rules or codes of behaviour.
When my family was traveling in Egypt in 1989, our local guide informed us about how confused the people in her country were. They were crowding around a television set at night in their energy efficient mud houses along the Nile, topped with a new fangled television antennae, watching glamorous Hollywood star Joan Collins, with her co-stars, in the American soap opera ‘Dynasty’.
Joan, bless her, was often clothed in a skin tight glittering sequin dresses, with her face made up heavily, her hair carefully coiffured and her ears drenched in diamonds. As she stepped into a chauffeur driven car as long as a city block, with people opening and shutting doors for her along the way, the Egyptians in their villages along the Nile sat wide-eyed in wonder. They thought this was normal western behaviour.
While in the west, being used to such spectacles we might have taken this all in our stride, and with a grain of salt, the people watching in Egypt included women with a veil covering their faces whose lives had been, at least up until that time, simple, sheltered and protected from such worldly influences. It was indeed a decadent experience.
They could not help but be affected by such radical visions our guide noted. Her father had been a minister in the government and uniquely, she had been educated in Europe and was very alarmed at what observing typical western ‘behaviour’ en masse might mean for an Egyptian family. In the long term, she could see how it might change their centuries old culture. And she was right, it has.
Change in a progressive society is always constant, yet it is something we all endeavour to resist because it is something that first and foremost, always invokes fear. If there is to be change, then it must be about improving society for all and not about change for change’s sake.
During the 80’s and 90’s advances in efficiency for the growing technology market meant that people all around the world who had never seen a computer, a telephone or home appliances before were now involved in making them for everyone else.
So they began to question why such technology was not available to their culture and society. They wondered how they could acquire the trappings and things that would make their life easier too.
Sharing information on the Internet, especially in the last two decades has rapidly changed the ideologies of world cultures and codes of acceptable behaviour.
It has also changed views on how society deals with great and sudden changes. An example: in our time is that many people have still not come to terms with England’s Prince Charles having an affair with another woman, when he was married to the public’s favourite, and most popular Princess Diana.
That it impacted on his relationship with the woman who was in the eyes of God and the law his wife, seemed not to have fazed him at all, until there was a huge public outcry.
The behaviour of taking a mistress was one prevalent among aristocrats in Europe for over three centuries. As he had always lived in a protected environment where men ruled first and foremost, at first the Prince didn’t seem to understand.
In the world he travelled within for a man to secure a mistress during the seventeenth and eighteenth century in Europe, there was an unwritten rule she must be married. Cuckolding a husband was actually looked upon as a person of nobility’s right.
King Edward VII, despite being married to Queen Alexandra, was renowned for his many adulterous affairs. He seemed to believe somehow the fact he was ‘royalty’ excused his appalling behaviour as a role model for his children.
By the time of Edwardian England, and post World War 1 in Australia, this type of behaviour had also filtered down to wealthy merchants and upper middle class people.
World War I and World War II however, would change many attitudes towards acceptable codes of behaviour in many societies and cultures, especially after it was over. Lords who had found themselves in trenches alongside what they called ‘the common man’, quickly found out that gunfire and bombs equally did not respect rank.
While he has had many accomplishments in his life Prince Charles will one day have to face up to swearing to uphold the laws of the Anglican church to be King of England. This has been a done deal for centuries because, while we may not currently think it, the church does have guidelines about that sort of thing.
In the past the Prince has said he will only swear to be a defender of ‘all faiths’, which many people would see as admirable. Interestingly though, many faiths I know about frown upon, or condemn adulterous behaviour. Some even relieve the participants of their lives.
As England is today a rapidly expanding multi racial society the Prince might face more opposition than many believe. When the time does come it will be about how he has caused a huge shift in the succession, as well as the high regard and respect for the English monarchy so excellently forged by his mother over the past 60 years.
During her Diamond Jubilee year HM The Queen must have reflected long and hard on the future for her family. While the public may have seemed to have ‘forgiven’ her son’s indiscretions and seemingly moved on, crunch time will come for the English public when he wants to make his former mistress a Queen.
Forgiveness for people’s failures or indiscretions should be at the top of all our agendas. It is forgetting the examples they set that is the challenge. Surely such a decision, if allowed would seem to make a mockery of our society and culture. It would also question the whole idea of what ‘royalty’ is, and should be about, especially in the twenty first century; it is about setting an example of a code of honour for everyone to live by and should form part of any person of substance’s personal code of honour.
We all expect our leaders, whether in a palace, in political life, in any country, corporation or local community, to lead by example.
Royalty and its offshoots, including Governor Generals, Governors, Administrators and their like, have an ultimate responsibility to the greater good, whether they, or its members like it or not.
If it forgets or ignores them, the danger is that society may judge them very harshly indeed. They may even decide they are no longer relevant or needed, as they did at the time of the French revolution or more recently in some countries around the world, where despot rulers have been torn down off their pedestals.
It has become very evident, at least over the last two decades, society does not like either a Prince, Priest, President or Politician who breaks their trust. Society also does not like a man who abuses his children or beats his wife and, vice versa.
Yet these were behaviours hidden for years behind a veil of silence, only became appalling and unacceptable to our society once they were known about, especially all forms of child and domestic abuse.
The inquiry into the behaviour of Priests in organized religious institutions around the world is only the tip of a huge iceberg, the rest is still there lying just below the surface – especially in people’s homes.
Everyone wants to see happy couples and families who trust and respect each other. Taking those we love for granted, or treating our families or workplace colleagues badly will never be acceptable in any society, culture or company. It is simply not acceptable for any woman to knowingly sleep with another woman’s husband or vice versa, whatever the circumstances. It’s called adult self-control. We all need to learn to acquire it for unless the person has completely freed themselves from their vows, sacred or secular, it is just simply, misconduct.
As our world becomes more and more overcrowded conduct, manners and behaviours will be and remain huge issues of concern. Simple points of reference such as ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ seem in the main to have been forgotten. This was the simple credo my grandmother’s generation lived by.
There are many official observances, performed by government officials for and on behalf of the many. A code of ‘ethical’ behaviour regarding professional practice, or action among members of the medical and law arenas are bound up in trust between client and patient, just as they are between priest and confessor.
This behaviour is similar to what should happen between parents and child; but so very often this seems to be the first intimate trust broken, with sometimes-dreadful consequences.
Sharing family decisions is important. No matter how small your children are if you are making a decision that will affect all the members of the family, then a good idea is to hold a ‘family conference’ and ensure everyone knows the facts, the how and why they lead to the decision taken.
Don’t ever disrespect your children by calling them stupid or take them for fools based on age. It’s an attitude that can, and indeed will have, long lasting effects. A family conference where everyone shares their views is a much more valuable method of education and communication.
Corporations hold conferences all the time and their value can also be measured by how they are keeping in touch with what their people are thinking. It’s a tried and true method, which children can learn through from an early age. It teaches them how a considerate, caring and well mannered family and society works.
Respect for self and others starts within the family fold and grows. Whether that family is a private or professional one or comes from a modest or grand household should not be an issue.
Children and adults of all ages need to understand in life when they make significant decisions it is not only just about them as individuals, but also about how it affects everyone in their circle, either immediately or, in the future.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2012-2014