When I was a little girl my parents and teachers drilled the importance of good manners into me, as did the parents and teachers of many, if not most, children in those days.
It was a given that I would say “please”, “thank you”, and “you’re welcome”; I was expected to be respectful to my elders and address them as Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so; and I acknowledged every gift I received with a hand-written thank you note. In school I was taught the correct way to introduce people to one another, how to answer a telephone call, and how to be a good neighbour.
I like to think that these lessons stuck and that I’m still relatively polite and well-mannered today. I appreciate a show of good manners in others and I disdain rudeness when I see it.
One day this week I was in a meeting with about fifteen other people. It was just getting started and the facilitator was doing his best to get everyone’s attention so he could start the meeting when suddenly one of the men stood up and left the room. No one paid much attention, everyone was still chatting amongst themselves and ignoring the futile attempts of the leader to start the meeting, but I was curious about why the gentlemen left the room.
I looked toward the door where he had exited, noticed that two women had just entered the room, and in the next moment the man returned with two chairs he had retrieved from conference room next door for them. He had obviously realized that all the chairs were taken when the women arrived and rather than sitting by and watching them deal with the chairless situation chose to take action to help them. My opinion of this man improved measurably in that moment.
A few weeks ago I was out for dinner with a large group of people. It was a loud and raucous gathering, the kind I dislike. Most everyone placed their phones on the table next to them when they sat down, one poor sap left his there when we left to use the rest room and returned to find that his phone had been hijacked and an unflattering photograph taken of one of his dinner companions had been set as the background image.
As the evening wore on, one of my dinner companions began sending crazy text messages to someone and sharing the responses with us. Still later, she scrolled through her Facebook feed and read some of the status updates to us. When did this kind of behaviour become okay? Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I found it rude and my opinion of the woman dropped a notch or two as a result.
Customs and expected behaviour change over the years and vary from country to country but basic good manners don’t go out of style. Maybe etiquette in 2013 is such that it’s okay to mess with someone’s personal property without their permission or to check Facebook or Twitter while having dinner with other people. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned in finding this rude. I suspect I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t appreciate the thoughtful behaviour of the man taking the initiative to bring chairs into the conference room for the late arrivals though.
I see so many behaviours that cause me to shake my head and perhaps I’m sounding a tad curmudgeonly today. I know the world is changing, for better or for worse, but I’ll continue to do the best I can to be respectful, polite, and well-mannered. And when I see bad behaviour? Well, I’m sorry, but it will continue to affect my perception of people.