Michiana Chronicles: Manners and Morals
“You have to tell people things more than once,” is one of the three things that I have learned in my life. Thus, more the once, probably to the extent that he had to roll his eyes, I said to my son during his formative years, “Good manners are the grease that makes the wheels of life turn smoothly.” This mixed mannerly and mechanical dictum is something that I firmly believe and am horrified to see far too often being tossed aside in today’s world.
Astute listeners may have noticed that I mentioned only saying this to my son in his younger life. That’s because I must have said it enough that it “took.” Living that way (Once while in the lower grades of grammar school, he won the “Curtis Courtesy” award.) carried him along through life so that he met and married a lovely young woman, also with good manners, and they produced two sons, now young men, who can be taken without fear into polite company. My work here would seem to be done, so I try to restrain myself and not offer suggestions to strangers. (As a devoted reader of “Miss Manners,” I know that that would be a breach.)
Having something of a sense of decorum, not to mention self-preservation, I don’t correct strangers, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a whole passel of them out there who are sorely in need of someone offering them a little direction. A quick glance at the public-at-large or the news sends me into eye-rolling mode.
The isolation of the pandemic seems to have lowered the bar to depths where people have forgotten how to behave out in the world. The stories of people on airplanes alone are enough to make even those not on the receiving end of the bad behavior want to resign from humanity. Clearly 18 months of wearing sweatpants has driven all thought of decorum from the minds of people. I’m not one who wants to go back to the 1950’s mode of dressing-for-dinner clothing as the choice for boarding an airplane for a flight, but it’s possible that making an effort in choice of apparel a cut above jammies would highlight in people’s minds that they no longer are alone on the couch burping and scratching at will. One’s own comfort shouldn’t supersede the comfort of others.
At a Civil Rights seminar, I once heard an attorney say, “Law is the codification of morality:” a statement that resonated with me and called to mind the quote, “Your right to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.” That’s why big fines are being instituted for disruptive airline passengers: a fine example of manners and morality and law intersecting.
In his first novel, “Rules of Civility,” Amor Towles included an appendix of young George Washington’s personal list of “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.” The first of G.W.’s 110 entries is “Every action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.” A strong start! Then there are many items dealing with basic hygiene, being careful not to be gross when eating, not talking too much or too loudly—the expected things. Finally, in lovely formal language, he has a big finish with “Labor to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.”
Although I opened here with “You have to tell people things more than once,” The Father of Our Country, who has quite a bit more stature than I, counsels in his 68th rule, “Give not Advice without being Ask’d & and when desired, do it briefly.” Seems that I’m finished here.
Music: "Mr. Manners Matters" by Marty Manners