Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Manners Still Matter to Those in the Know

   Yesterday, a reporter at The Richmond Times Dispatch called and asked my opinion about the recent outbursts of Serena Williams, Kanye West and US Representative Joe Wilson. To my surprise, the article was published on the front page of the paper today and is entitled: "Outbursts of the famous: Why so rude?"
   So far this morning, this article has received 43 comments. Many more comments than any of the other articles in the paper combined. Etiquette and manners are always a hot topic, so why do good manners receive no comments and seem to be disappearing in our American society?
   My exact words to this reporter were: "Manners matter to those in the know. Good manners will take one farther than any Ivy League eduction. The knowledge of etiquette and impeccable manners will take one anywhere and everywhere in life."
   I attributed declining civility in American society to a few concurring factors. Twenty-four hour Cable TV, producers wanting 'shock value' and confrontation within their programming to boost ratings, talking heads on all Cable TV shows talking over each other all the time, instant international information on the Internet and in our hand held cell phones, the 40 year disintegration of the American family, religion, education, and discipline in general. Casual lifestyles leading to casual fashion and dress codes, spilling over to casual manners, or no manners at all.
   The behavior of Serena Williams and Kanye West were both wrong and rude. Society will punish them as society sees fit. These days, thanks to the media, they will probably get more press, more TV screen time, and as a result, more fame and probably make more money.
   Regarding US Representative Joe Wilson's behavior: In 1801, Jefferson wrote "Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary Practice" as a reference on parliamentary protocol. The Senate traditionally has not considered this body of work as its direct authority on parliamentary procedure, as they began amending it in 1828 and did not finish their version until 1977. However, in Congress, according to this manual, one may call the President a "half-baked nit-wit," but may not refer to the President as a "liar" or "hypocrite." Freedom of semantics and hyperbole. Joe Wilson was wrong in using the word "liar" but not wrong in speaking his mind. He should have just used a different word. Interestingly enough, in Great Britain, Parliament openly tolerates constant, brisk verbal outbursts. I mentioned to the reporter, Joe Wilson's outburst was the first (to be televised anyway), but will not be the last.
     America is currently experimenting with many different social and political paths Europeans have been practicing and tolerating for decades. For the past 400 years, America has been its own island of Anglo-Christian Puritan behavior, fighting for what we perceive to be right. Now, we are a multi-cultural society, multi-tasking with multiple perceptions. Hopefully, Americans will grow more tolerant and inclusive in general and less tolerant of bad behaviors as we catch up with all the technology we have invented.
   Instant condemnation and gratification. Instant communication and opinion. Instant fame and fortune. But, instant forgiveness? Instant civility and manners?
   Do not fret dear readers, Americans will tolerate only so much rudeness. The Press is a powerful vehicle of information, but the societal pendulum will eventually swing back. For now, thank goodness, manners still matter to those in the know.

1 comment:

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