Have our manners gone astray?
This blog is intended to question whether or not there is a decline of good manners in the 21st century. My reference to manners is not about proper table etiquette. Dr. P.M. Forni, Director of the The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland) describes manners and civility as being about how we treat each other in everyday life. This applies to adults, adolescents and children. My scope does not include Donald Trump’s rudeness, as that is much more than bad manners, it’s a character issue (in my opinion).
This question first crossed my mind in the late 90’s when there were significant technological advancements with cell phones going from analogue to digital. At that time, more and more people started to use cell (digital) phones because of their new features. In doing so, people appeared to be forgetting about good manners. For example, people on their cell phones would talk loudly in public areas or take calls in the middle of a conversation with them. In sports, I have witnessed some of my friends take calls when they crossed the tennis court to change serving position, during a match, with no apologies offered! And cell phone abusers continued. Years later, the prospect of the decline in civility was covered in a 2008 television documentary that was titled “To Hell With Manners”. It was aired on CTV and included everything about discourteous behavior to a young pregnant woman left standing on the subway to airline passengers going ballistic in the skies. Studies that were conducted in the UK (2014) and the United States (University of Chicago, 2016) indicate that the majority of surveyed people think that good manners are lacking and/or declining. Whether or not the shift is real, could be a case of perceptions and differences in generational expectations.
Root causes on missed mannerisms?
The slippery slope of incivility and bad manners could be caused by a number of reasons. Perhaps, it’s because of:
- A perspective that life seems a little harder these days and we are getting grumpier.
- A misunderstanding in some situations about the notion of gender equality, as this post suggest in a comment’s section of a UK newspaper article: “On the way home on a bus, I offered my seat to a younger lady who had just boarded our full bus” She said “You don’t have to stand there because I’m a women”. I replied “I’m not. I got up because I am a gentlemen”.
- An outcome of business automation and downsizing. Nowadays the process for a complaint about a mass product or service often does not involve face to face contact. The complaint system can allow us to abruptly cut off an online chat or get rude to the customer service person that is based in the Philippines. We do not have to face these people on the street the next day or at school reunions.
- Life’s pace has sped up and we have less time and patience for each other (ex. drivers get cut off, people infringe on our personal space, you loose your cool in long line-ups at airports).
- Our wired and social media networking world has diminished our human sensitivity. This ranges from knee jerk reactions on social media to online shaming.
- The ubiquitous wear of earphones by colleagues, and youth/adults in their homes conveys a message of “do not disturb me”. Sometimes it’s necessary to do wear them. However bad manners can develop by making it a habit of wearing earbuds to not be part of conversations and not respond to questions.
- Who sets the tone in a household, the parents or the children/adolescents? This is for example agreeing not to have smart phones at family meals. Parents cannot be indifferent in these settings.
- Lack of discussion between parents and youth about proper manners, including on social networks. And the guidance and oversight needs to be regular, yet some parents feel intimated in the case of social media, and do not follow-up.
Surely there are more causes. It’s difficult to pin it down to one root cause. This tree, the decline in civil behavior, has many roots.
And to go back to my initial question “whether or not there is a decline of good manners in the 21st century”, I think that the answer is yes. I also believe that modern manners are at work and in progress.
While surveys and news about this decline is valuable, we also need to become aware and take action on this issue. It could mean to speak up more often and say to someone in a civilized way, that their behavior is not acceptable and why. And let’s not forget that uncivil behavior can be hurtful.
Manners and behaviors are a sign of civility and manners and behaviors are a manner of civilized society.