Thursday, May 4, 2017

Good Fences and Good Manners

Whether or not good fences make good neighbors, good manners certainly do. And yet, fences also matter. They create boundaries between what is mine and what is yours. They allow each of us a measure of privacy. They establish a difference between public and private property.

Fences place us somewhere, not everywhere and not nowhere. Being a member of a group means situating yourself, somewhere. You cannot belong if you are everywhere or nowhere.

A good neighbor respects your space. He is not always in your business. This shows his good manners.

We have it on the authority of Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, that good manners are essential to social harmony and good relationships. Surely, the world would be a better place if all therapists were required to take a course in manners, in etiquette. Admittedly, etiquette does not always coincide with ethics, but still, good manners make you a member of a group. Bad behavior, or even manners that do not harmonize with those of other group members, will designate you an outsider. Trust me, you do not want to be an outsider.

Now, psychologist Ty Tashiro has written a new book about how to overcome social awkwardness. (Via Maggie’s Farm) Being naturally (or unnaturally) awkward himself, he has thought about the problem and has had to work hard to overcome what others might call his social anxiety. As it happens, he does not call it social anxiety, and thus prevents us from imagining that it can be treated with a pill. If you do not know etiquette no pill is going to teach it to you.

Tashiro arrives at some good conclusions about why manners matter, why they have always mattered and why they will continue to matter.

If you imagine that manners are constraining because they do not allow you to express yourself fully to other people, you have had too much therapy and do not understand the basics of social interaction.

Since we all want to know how manners developed in primitive societies, Tashiro quotes the research of anthropologist Mary Douglas. If you have good manners you are seen as a trustworthy member of a group:

Parents and other adults know that good manners are important because they’re a way to demonstrate your spirit of cooperation and respect for others. Anthropologist Mary Douglas has noted in her book Purity and Danger that our sharp attention to manners evolved from small hunter-gatherer groups, whose survival relied heavily on groups functioning as a coherent, cooperative whole. A rogue member who stole food, slacked during the hunt, or committed a treasonous act endangered the lives of everyone in the group.

When group survival depended on active participation in a cooperative enterprise, one that placed the good of the group ahead of personal gratification, manners mattered:

Manners served as a kind of early-warning system—a way to identify people whose actions might go against the broader good. A person who wasn’t good at waiting his turn for food was a potential threat. A simple “thank you” acknowledged that the group member was capable of recognizing the value of other people and their contributions.

If you are cooperative you also become more likable. This applies to you even if you are a robot. Yes, you heard that correctly:

Today, a growing number of scientists are exploring manners as they attempt to design robots that are trustworthy and likable. Early findings from this research suggest that it’s not the processing power or resolution of the graphic interface that matter when it comes to likability, but instead robots’ ability to execute routine manners properly—like not standing too close to a person, or listening when others speak. If people perceive a robot to be poorly mannered, then they don’t care about its technological brilliance.

What makes for good manners? Tashiro has a number of recommendations. True enough, we, and he could conjure up many more, but he had to start somewhere.

First, he recommends that we not force others to share our mood, even if we are happy. We should not, he suggests force others to feel the same optimism as we do. I would add that if we do so we do not respect the boundary between us and them. Thus we are being invasive and intrusive… and ignoring the Frostian theme.

Second, he suggests that we be kind to others. When a friend sends you a draft of an article he is working on, understand that it is a draft and that being a friend means offering support, not criticism. For reasons that escape me—or, should I say, that I wish escaped me— some people feel constrained to offer a ruthlessly critical assessment of work product, regardless of how much it hurts the other person. Or else, they ignore the work because they do not agree with it. Making kind, supportive gestures is a sign of good manners. Doing anything else makes you a moral lowlife.

You want to encourage the other person to keep working, not to make him feel so worthless that he cannot continue to work. Get it!

Third, respecting the privacy of others means not gossiping! When someone confides his problems with a task, you ought not to repeat what he has said, to anyone. This is especially important, Tashiro says, in workplace interactions:

One of the best courtesies you can give to your colleagues to show respect for their privacy. When you do talk about co-workers in their absence—particularly in groups—make sure to avoid putting their trials and tribulations in the spotlight.

Finally, Tashiro recommends that we react to the faults of others with grace. One might also say that we need to be concerned with saving the other person’s face. It is, dare I say, one of the keys to good human relations. If someone spills a drink you should not laugh at him, criticize him or even scowl at his clumsiness. You should pretend that it did not happen, or else, that it does not mean anything:

Unlike patience and tolerance, which involves suppressing a strong feeling of annoyance, grace arises from a spirit of goodwill—a provisional assumption that people mean well. I am more likely than the average person to accidentally call people by the wrong name or spill my drink on their lap. After these gaffes, no one feels worse than me. So it means a tremendous amount to me when people react with grace. They not only show forgiveness, they also demonstrate their faith that I am a well-intentioned person—who also happens to be clumsy at times.

If you feel annoyed, do not express your annoyance. You should not follow the advice that infects the therapy culture: to express your feelings, just because you feel them.

You and your friend, even you and your new acquaintance are supposedly on the same team. If you want to remain on the same team, you do best to cut him some slack and to ignore his infelicitous behaviors.

You do so, Tashiro notes, because you assume that your friend’s clumsiness is not intentional. You assume that he has not meant to insult you. You do what you learned in Sunday School: you turn the other cheek.

Turning the other cheek means that you should not retaliate until you know that a slight was intentional. You give the other person the benefit of the doubt, until you know otherwise.


trigger warning said...

All that is very good advice for operating within one's personal and extended social circle(s).

Nevertheless, it's my observation that in the political arena, the Progressive Left goes out of its way to be as venomous, insulting, and abrasive as possible (e.g., John Oliver). Some cover the venom with a thin veneer of verbal camouflage (e.g., fellow commenter Ares), but the contempt and disregard for out-group individuals is always apparent.

Failing to respond appropriately has been a strategic error for the conservative Right. It's important to remember that it takes two votes to end a bilateral conflict, but only one vote to start one.

And speaking as a Christian, I truly do not believe the "turn the other cheek" admonition was ever intended to be a suicide pact. YMMV.

Ares Olympus said...

Agreed overall, and I'm sure few disagrees as much as everyone is trying to figure out how to get what you need in a world that often doesn't care what you need, and in the adult world, shouldn't need to care.

And the Politically Correct people are just as interested in peaceable relations as anyone and its just that they are trying to dictate the standards of good manners to everyone else.

I have a problem with an anti-gossip directive, although it is a tricky qualifier. If we start by assuming "Gossip says more about the gossiper than his target", that offers some clues.

And to the defense of honesty, I also wish to see both sides. Socially it makes sense that we don't want to communicate directly, so for example, men are supposed to learn subtle cues that when a woman offer an excuse against going out on a date twice in a row within a short period of time, no matter what the excuses were, he needs to assume she is just saying no, but finds that impolite. Yet mixed signals may be the nature of humanity, so sometimes you have to be prepared to say things direct.

On TW's claim of venonous insults from the left, certainly anyone hiding under the social justice banner should be worries right now that their good intentions are being sabotaged by radicals who are believe silencing free speech is serving a moral good.

I saw this video recently, about a Berkley group called BAMN (By Any Means Necessary) that has been not just silencing the opposition but physically assaulting any scapegoat they choose. Sargon of Akkad calls them a cult, and gives some inner stories of members who got out when they disagreed with tactics, or just got tired of it. BAMN Are A Violent Cult

So anyway, obviously people who have found a "tribe" you can can project all evil to those outside the tribe, have no fear of ostration.

And I see how it can seem to be a credible approach, imaginging "I'm not a hater. I'm just trying to protect the innocent from other haters." And so this is also a part of the "Drama Triangle" - Victim - Perpetrator, and Rescuer, and as long as you're in the matrix of the narrative, you really can't see your own abusive behavior. And when you cover up your abusive behavior, it is justified because you're a leader of a moment to change the world, and your moral crimes pale in comparison to your rival haters.

It does seem fair to call these people alt-left, and it might be fair to say alt-feminism exists within such movements as well, the militant position that says peace can't be reached until the opposition is destroyed. And the BLM surely also has an alt-BLM which works identically, and delegitimizes real issues of police bias that could be better expressed without attributing malice to the police officers.

So all this agrees with TW, that it is simply too easy to "go radical" when you have your own tribe that can focus contempt onto an out-group.

Still, obviously the more you descend to the level of your hater, the more they win, and the worse you can do to haters is to not respond by hate.

Or like Jesus said in Matthew 5 about not only loving those who love you. 5:43–48:43

I can see human life as having two drives - connection and autonomy, with women more interested in the the first, and men more interested in the second. If you need connection but don't have autonomy, you'll become a tyrant to those around you. If you need autonomy, but don't have connection, you'll sometimes find yourself alone and lost not know how to reach out when you need help.

So the middle ground starts with fences (integrity) and then good manners can be an honest bridge to sane relations.