We have, some would say, overcome propriety and good manners. We avoid formal rituals, like making introductions, and believe that meeting new people should involve exchanging witty remarks.
We no longer behave like ladies and gentlemen, because those terms are certainly sexist. We see ourselves as gender-neutered persons who are not trying to become friends or to work together, but to exploit each other… with mutual consent.
If we think of meet new people, we are more likely to conjure up the one-liners that are the stock-in-trade of the pick-up artist than the genteel, ceremonial way of presenting Mr. Smith to Ms. Jones. And yet, which would you prefer, being introduced to a prospective date or picking him or her up at a club.
And yet, formal introductions engage us as social beings. They invite us into a group, identify us by name and title and perhaps occupation to other members of the group and do the same for the other members of the group.
You are more fully human, you are more yourself when you participate in this ritual than you are when you try to pick up that comely blond at a club by trotting out a clever remark about … whatever.
Being human means belonging to groups. It does not involve being a uniquely autonomous individual being introduced to another uniquely autonomous individual.
At The Art of Manliness blog, Bret and Kate McKay have offered some advice about how to introduce people to each other. (Via Maggie’s Farm.)
These behaviors are so important that communities have ritualized them and have made them an important social obligation. When you are part of a conversation group at a party and a friend who is a stranger to the rest of the group approaches, you are morally obligated to make an introduction.
If you fail to do so, you will have shunned your friend and put your fellow group members in an awkward position.
Making introductions a formal ritual means that you will be forearmed, that you will know what to do when the situation arises. You will not be left thinking of a clever quip that, doubtless, will not soon cross your mind.
The McKays present the issue:
Have you ever been at a party with a guy who runs into somebody he knows and starts yammering away while you stand there awkwardly, holding your drink? Man, I hate when that happens. You’re left in social limbo. I usually have to just take things into my own hands and introduce myself, which is fine, but the exchange would have been much smoother had my friend introduced me to his buddies.
Being introduced invites you into the conversation and makes you feel like part of the group, which is why making an introduction shows your respect for your guest. Neglecting to make an introduction leaves a person feeling ignored and, well, awkward. Making introductions is particularly important in business settings as they establish a rapport of respect, get relationships off on the right foot, and give you an aura of being confident, prepared, and in control.
Formal introductions are based, the McKays explain, on deference and respect.
You show chivalrous deference to women by introducing the man to the woman. You show respect for your elders by introducing the younger to the older. And in a business setting, you show respect to higher-ups by introducing the person of lower rank to the person of higher position. Below we break down this rule into a few easy to understand examples so you can see how this works.
I will leave it to the McKays to explain in detail the practice of introduction. We all say that we want to be respected and we know, or we should know that the best way to garner respect is to offer it to others. And yet, respecting people means treating them with courtesy and good manners. It is ritualized behavior, not an expression of feeling. If you do not know how to do it, I recommend that you study the examples the McKays offer.