The Importance of Good Manners

Such a simple gesture. I was walking across a parking lot with a man — a gentleman — who placed his hand on my back and guided me, very slightly, as a car was passing alongside us. He repeated the gesture, directing me just ahead of him, as we approached a door.

And then he opened the door, with a smile.

Over coffee, though his was ready before mine, he waited. He didn’t fiddle, he didn’t fuss, he didn’t sip; he simply waited. Politely. And continued the conversation.

Now, to some, these moves may not have registered. Maybe you find yourself so accustomed to old school “good manners” that you’re staring quizzically at your tablet thinking: “What’s the big deal?”

Yet these small, seemingly automatic acts are a very big deal. Likewise, the routine use of please, thank you, and attentiveness to the person we’re with.

Old School Good Manners

The hand-on-the-back gesture? The wait until my tall skinny latte arrived? This was about old school manners. Old school good manners. And yes, I readily admit they are gender-oriented in the first example, though that’s arguably not the case since I was paying more attention to the conversation than to where I was walking.

And gender-oriented or not, that doesn’t make these courteous behaviors any less a pleasure to yours truly.

A man I used to hang with? He fted special moments with greeting cards designed to convey more than his feelings; his selections reflected extraordinary thought and whimsy. Another of his habits that I loved was this: He took pleasure in a pretty place setting, which transformed even a snack into something of an occasion.

Sure, you might say these examples are above and beyond, and they’re not for everyone. Possibly so. Still, I found them delightful. And don’t they add a certain je ne sais quoi to our otherwise mundane lives?

Issues of Respect

Now here’s a contrast. Another man I met recently, not a gentleman by any definition, displayed resistance to the most basic rules of socializing behavior. In other words, he showed little respect for no means NO.

I found myself in an unsettling position, shocking really, as I thought I was well past the age at which this could occur. And while it shouldn’t be relevant — because NO is all that’s important here — there was zero provocation in the ways that so many would point a prejudicial finger at the woman, rather than at the man.

And don’t be fooled. Aggression of a sexual nature does not require alcohol, skimpy clothing, a “hot body,” or a young woman.

It’s aggression. It’s frightening. It’s wrong.

Manners 101: Back to Basics

Basic good manners in life?

They’re not difficult. Courtesy should be taught to us as children, don’t you think? And even if it’s not, can’t we learn and then put good manners into practice any time?

My barest basics include:

  • Saying please and thank you
  • Not interrupting
  • Respecting others’ personal space
  • Respecting “no cellphone” rules in stores and offices
  • Essential table manners (i.e., don’t be gross!)
  • Not shouting on the Internet

And yes, if you would like to add a few of those old school gender gestures — chairs pulled out, doors opened, a hand on the back or taking an arm while walking — it’s fine by me.

Label them “chivalrous” if you will, chide me for relishing remnants of a bygone era, but I like what I like! And I’m helpful in similar ways.

Moreover, I find no contradiction in being a strong, intelligent and feminine woman who enjoys these mannerly moves.

Good Manners for the 21st Century

All behaviors of glued-to-our-handheld-devices aside, differences in treatment of strangers versus those we know, and “netiquette” — and the need not to pay more heed to a small screen than the people you’re with — couldn’t we use practical guidance on manners for today?

Couldn’t we remember that we are judged by others on our manners, which can be telling of our upbringing, our education, our social skills, our future compatibility for a next job or a next date?

And speaking of dates, couldn’t we consider not courting by text, especially if we’re just getting to know someone? Isn’t a great deal lost in translation, including the sender’s mood and humor, when you don’t have the benefit of voice or expression?

The Emotion Machine features nice coverage of good manners in the 21st century, spanning a range of topics and situations. I especially like these pertaining to communications:

Give people a response, even if you don’t want to talk to them…

“No” is better than false promises…

Criticizing people in front of others adds unnecessary insult to injury…

Trying to pressure people just makes them do the opposite… respect people’s choices and free will…

Aren’t these part of long-term relationship-building? Don’t these simple guidelines help us create and maintain a reputation of fair dealing and integrity?

Listen First, Talk Second

Here’s one of my personal “good manners” rules, and I periodically have to remind myself to follow it, especially if I’m stressed or sleep-deprived.

Listen first, talk second. And really listen. Don’t worry about the response you want to give; focus on what you’re hearing, pay attention to the body language, and be as fully “in” the conversation as possible.

Certainly, this is a challenge when kids are scrapping in the background, you’ve got a second call coming in on your smartphone, and your co-worker is expecting you in a Skype meeting. Meanwhile, you’re multitasking on steroids as you carry on a conversation, your mind bounces to another, and you’re scanning restaurant reviews on Yelp for date night with the Hubby or the Wife.

So what facilitates the Listen First rule?

How about one thing at a time? How about doing whatever you can to reduce the noise — unnecessary multitasking, for example? Isn’t it better to say you’ll be late for the Skype meeting, not to take the second call, and not to commit to date night this week if it really is too much pressure?

Hello? The “no is better than false promises” item above — it’s a good one, isn’t it?