The most dainty child and the most gruff redneck harbor sensitive feelings. We’re all “snowflakes” in some way. Resentments are planted and violence erupts when feelings are hurt. We may disguise our pains with the denial of a stiff upper lip. The fact is, we are all capable of becoming butthurt through our perceptions of what goes on around us. Once we become aware that everybody has sensitive feelings, we discover the roots of good manners. In other words, good manners are the manifestation of empathy.
One contemporary test of good manners and proper etiquette is to be understanding and accepting of people’s gender identification. To respect another person’s gender is to strive to ensure that person in our company feels at ease. To harangue someone about gender identity is insensitive and rude. It costs us absolutely nothing to be thoughtful and respectful of another person’s identity. After all, etiquette is gender neutral–one strives to ensure people around us feel at ease.
Gender neutrality is only one example of good manners. We extend thoughtful words and behavior to everyone. Whoever causes the fewest people to become uncomfortable is the best behaved person in the room. Proper etiquette is not complicated; it’s the art of making others feel secure and comfortable in our presence. The person who possesses good manners is more likely a safe haven for others.
I’ve read about supposed scenarios that imply common courtesy is out of fashion. For instance, there are claims that women feel offended when a door is held open for them. In my personal experience, I have not found that to be true. Whenever I arrive at a door first, I hold it open for whomever follows me–regardless of gender, young or old. I have never been scolded for doing so. The most common response is a simple “thank you”. If I happen to be burdened with a package in my hands and someone holds the door open for me, I always reply with a “thank you” and a smile. Again, there is absolutely no cost in showing basic consideration for feelings.
Oftentimes good manners implies putting up with other people’s lack of manners. We grin and bear simple ignorance of proper behavior. On the other hand, deliberate insults and harmful behavior must be called out, especially when corrosive behavior is directed towards less powerful individuals. To stand up and defend an acquaintance in an assertive way, is to enforce boundaries and practice good manners.
Without belaboring the point, I believe that one thing I most miss in our modern times is respect for appropriate etiquette. Call me old-fashioned, but most people seemed to speak and behave well in the not so distant past. Respectful behavior held communities and nations together. Political discussions did not devolve into threats of mayhem. “Please” and “thank you” were reflexive responses in everyday, interpersonal communication. Basically, good manners are social lubrication that enables the world to get along peaceably.
In more ways than one, respecting boundaries (personal and international) along with appropriate concern for feelings (personal and international) are good manners writ large. Manners are the measure of the smallness or greatness of people. Anyway, these are just my opinions.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 20th century etiquette authority and writer, Amy Vanderbilt. “Good manners have much to do with the emotions. To make them ring true, one must feel them, not merely exhibit them.”