Of good manners and the art of living

For some reason, I feel inspired by one of my favorite blogs this morning, The Unorthodox Epicure. The inspiration in question gives me the courage to say things as I see them, knowing very well that my perspective is not law. I simply feel the urge to express it.

Recently, I wrote an article in which I jokingly quoted a 19th century book on table manners and the art of living. “It is generally established as a rule not to ask for soup or fish twice, as in so doing, part of the company may be kept waiting for the second course,” states the 1861 publication titled, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Table manners evolved in response to changing social times. In fact, in researching this topic for various articles I have found that specific meals were devised in order to provide the right circumstances for people to practice civil behavior and proper conduct in the presence of others.

ps - 0629While this may sound pompous to some, I must admit that I find good manners utterly fascinating and worthy of study. Also, I see key words here that seem to be at the core of today’s lack of manners. Sorry. This is what I see. I cannot claim to be right. I merely want to be honest. Those key words are, “in the presence of others.” How we define “other” is at the core of the problem also.

I sat outside to read this morning, and finally came in to write this article after witnessing behavior I cannot understand. About six motorcyclists stopped on the side of the street, to relax for a while before continuing their journey. This is fine and I am glad that they have such a fine day to practice the activity they enjoy. I also realize that they contribute to Vermont economy and am grateful for this. What I fail to understand is that they clearly had no intention of partaking of the menu at the restaurant across the street, yet used up at least three spaces where people who desired to eat there might have parked.

This scene is far from uncommon. As usual, they proceeded to chat for over a half hour as if they had been in their own driveway, loudly, totally oblivious to the fact that this is clearly a residential area. To add to the annoyance, every other word was a swear word.

Many thoughts went through my mind. I reminded myself that this was just one instance in time and that I do not know these people at all. I reminded myself that if I struck a conversation with them, I would surely enjoy their company and find common goals and interests. Then I asked myself how come it does not occur to them that they are using up parking space that means revenue for a local business, and that they are invading an otherwise peaceful neighborhood with unnecessarily loud voices? Would they not tiptoe around a loved one who is sitting peacefully, enjoying the summer air, so as to not disturb? Why is there a distinction between how we behave with family and friends and how we behave with strangers?

The motorcyclists left. I mentally wished them a great day. This thought calmed me down. Moments later, someone walked to a car that was parked nearby, opened the door and started the engine to allow the air conditioner to cool it… and returned more than a half hour later. I’m sorry. Again, I do not claim to be right or even perfect in this regard. I just don’t get it. It would not occur to me to do that when someone is sitting right there, peacefully.

Lack of consideration. Where and when did we as a society learn this behavior? It makes me sad. I cannot quite explain this, but it does. It makes me feel like even though I essentially believe in the good nature of every single person, what I witness informs me that people make a conscious choice (I do believe it is a choice) to act without consideration for others.

Respect for others. This, to me, is the only real privacy issue. And it all boils back down to good manners. And one should not need a book or political debate to enforce good manners. In fact, enforcement is not even necessary. Good manners go without saying. We talk about the modern, civilized world. We cannot be civilized if we do not act in a civil manner.

If we so value privacy, how can we behave in ways that say, “Respect my space, but I don’t give a damn about yours?” Double standards. I don’t know what to do with this. I go to the city and hold doors for people behind me, only to watch others nearby become impatient because this causes a delay of what, 5 seconds.

Consideration for others. We don’t want big government. We want privacy and dignity. Then why not govern our own actions in a dignified manner?

No hard feelings. Just quite baffled and trying to make sense of it all. Thank you for listening.

Footnote: Then, if the point of this exercise is to be honest, I must ask myself at least two questions: 1- Why is this so important to me that I feel the need to talk about it? 2- Is this the real issue?

While you’re here, explore The Unorthodox Epicure.

2 thoughts on “Of good manners and the art of living

  1. Back in the late ’60’s, Jane was given a booklet by the US Army called “Mrs. Lieutenant” on the proper etiquette and functions of the wife of a new lieutenant in the Army. One of the things that sticks in my mind is leaving calling cards with your name, etc., if you visit someone and find them not home.

    1. I like that. Maybe these days we could have a special text device at the door, used for a similar purpose. You sign in and say a few nice words before leaving. On another note, I had to add a footnote to my “rant:” If the point of this exercise is to be honest, I must ask myself at least two questions: 1- Why is this so important to me that I feel the need to talk about it? 2- Is this the real issue?

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