Why are we still debating the issue? Why do we have to keep explaining why anyone should be polite?
Our continuing need to persuade people to practice good manners counts as a symptom.
Roland Martin recently described the small acts of rudeness he encounters on a daily basis:
The other day, I held the door open for three people at the NBC NewsChannel building where we shoot my TV One show, and they walked in as if I was the doorman. No hello, thank you, nothing.
I experience this a lot with women. You hold the door open for them and they don’t even bother to say thank you. Look, I’m not trying to get your phone number or Twitter handle, I’m just being a courteous man. Geez. You would think a simple “thank you” would suffice.
How about being at the grocery store and as you are standing there perusing something on the shelf, someone walks in front of you like you are a piece of furniture. Is “excuse me” really that hard to say?
Sure, you may call this petty, but it really does chap my hide! Maybe it was my upbringing in Texas, where it was common to say “thank you” or “excuse me.”
It’s worse. Many people take pride in being abrasive. They believe they are being more authentic.
We would like to say that they do not know any better, but, truth be told, they have been brought up not to have good manners… because manners, don’t you know, are condescending and offensive.
Some women, for example, will take offense if you open a door for them. So, why bother?
So, Paul Ford has posted about the value of being polite. It seems self-evident, but it probably isn’t.
Ford argues that being polite helps to get things done. People cooperate better when there is less drama. More politeness means less drama.
Better yet, when you are polite to people they seem naturally inclined to like you.
Ford believes that politeness takes time to produce real benefits. It’s not about a single gesture, but a consistent pattern of courteous actions. After all, a single gesture can mean anything. Repeated polite gestures must mean that you like the other person and seek to have a harmonious relationship:
… the stubborn power of politeness over time. Over time. That’s the thing. Mostly we talk about politeness in the moment. Please, thank you, no go ahead, I like your hat, cool shoes, you look nice today, please take my seat, sir, ma’am, etc. All good, but fleeting.
Ah yes, the virtue of formality. The joy of etiquette. Ford offers an interesting interpretation:
What I found most appealing was the way that the practice of etiquette let you draw a protective circle around yourself and your emotions. By following the strictures in the book, you could drag yourself through a terrible situation and when it was all over, you could throw your white gloves in the dirty laundry hamper and move on with your life. I figured there was a big world out there and etiquette was going to come in handy along the way.
Etiquette buys you time. It allows you to get to know another person slowly and surely. It lets you judge his or her character. It prevents you from being intrusive and abrasive.
The opposite of etiquette is the hookup culture.
Etiquette also protects you from snap judgments.
When you choose a friend, what matters is character. I would not preclude the possibility that you can judge a person’s character in a quick glance. We reveal far more than we know with our appearance, our demeanor and our gestures. But, in most cases, it is better to take the time to get to know an individual, to make a judgment based on more than an initial impression.
Politeness creates what Ford calls a buffer zone around each of you. He advises, sagely, that we ought not to reach out and touch people. That is, we should not be overly familiar with people we barely know.
Even with people we know fairly well, when you have to choose between telling some there’s something crawling in his hair and plucking it out yourself, choose the former and not the latter.
In Ford’s words:
The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment. I know that doesn’t sound like liberation, because we live and work in an opinion-based economy. But it is. Not having an opinion means not having an obligation. And not being obligated is one of the sweetest of life’s riches.
When it comes to striking up a conversation with just about anyone, Ford advises you to show some interest in whatever the other person does for a living. It’s inevitable that the topic will arise. It always does. A polite person asks for details about something that is vital to an individual’s identity.
This has a special poignancy this week, but people will not connect with you if you reduce them to an anonymous audience, and tell the best jokes in the world. It’s better to show them that you care about them.
Yet, this technique also requires that you offer up some information about yourself. A one-sided conversation will quickly become boring.
Recounting a conversation with a woman at he met at a party, Ford exults in his ability to get her to talk about her job but adds that he revealed nothing about himself, not even his name.
Dare I say, he should not feel proud of himself. A good etiquette book would tell Ford that if he wanted to see the woman again he should have introduced himself and told her his name. To do otherwise was rude and manipulative.