Almost every day we find ourselves in trivial situations, but somehow they still manage to get us in a bad mood. In most cases it is about some (to us) illogical behavior coming from the strangers, and only a little bit of consideration could lighten our day or ease up on the pressure of our everyday lives.
I’m talking about the 21st-century etiquette which has undergone through such changes that it no longer resembles anything our ancestors, parents and grandparents for instance, once knew. Younger generation nowadays perhaps didn’t even hear of the term “etiquette” which denotes ‘a code of behavior that delineates patterns of social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social group or a class.’ Usually, these rules are not set in written, though numerous such attempts exist in past and in different cultures. However, they are significant and as of recently have been recognized by numerous companies in which human resources department studies the performance behavior of their current and potential employees based on the business conduct guidelines (sometimes also referred to as ‘company policy’) which bears resemblance to the concept of “etiquette” in general. These guidelines do not necessarily have to do with the knowledge and competencies required for effective job performance, but more with personality traits and favorable behavior in specific situations. Whatever set of norms is in question, it may be too much to handle with considering the pragmatics of the world in which we live in, full of rules, “simplified” with an endless list of passwords for passwords and tips for secure passwords, right?
Though this article will not give a diachronic overview of various behavior codices from the past, yet some points are too interesting not to be mention just to get a better understanding of the current situation.
As early as in the 3rd century BC Ptahotep wrote maxims which, according to some people’s opinion, may be conformist, yet, there are vivid resemblances between what is considered good “then” and “now”. The maxims highlight truthfulness, self-control and kindness towards one’s fellow beings with a particular emphasis on avoiding conflicts. The Enlightenment era on the other hand, from the contemporary perspective, was radical because a person was expected to strictly abide by the rules if s/he wanted to be acknowledged in society. A sort of obsession ruled at the time especially with regards to the rules like when to show emotions, the art of elegant dress code and graceful conversation, etc.
Furthermore, Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, was the first to use the term “etiquette” in its modern meaning as he showed with the letters he was writing to his son in which he gave him detailed instructions on how to become a man of the world and a gentleman.
Another interesting perspective comes from Lord Shaftesbury, a philosopher who in the early 18th century defined politeness as the ‘art of managing our words and actions in order to make other people have a better opinion of us and themselves’. It seems that such courtesy is hypocritical, but occasionally it is exactly what we need so our passion and instincts wouldn’t take over our sense, of course, as much as it is possible sometimes to act in that way. Contrary to modern perception which praises individuality above all and by any means necessary, it also seems as if we are getting even for all suffering in the world since the beginning of time. I really don’t understand the purpose of that… However, the fact remains not everyone could act in the same ways despite the existence of unified behavior codes. Yet, Charles Darwin identified the same behavior in young infants and blind individuals through analyzing universal facial responses to complex emotions like shame and disgust, concluding that these responses are not learned but innate. All in all, I think everyone will recognize “the universal features of the contemporary, self-conscious age”.
Who has even heard of chivalry nowadays? You know, that stereotypical behavior as in ancient times when a man would open a door for a woman. No, no, now it is popular that man first sits in his muscle car, then takes his hand out of the window and pets his car door evidently suggesting his car is more important than a try to make you feel comfortable let alone special. All the fuss over a special outfit, matching accessories and by far the most impractical hairstyle -loose hair is for nothing when your dear one hasn’t paid the slightest bit of attention to it.
We all know what is this all about. Should we give a seat to an older person, a pregnant woman or a woman with a child? Yes, of course, we should, there is no alternative, and it is really shameful somebody has to warn us about that. True, we can sometimes feel too exhausted to do this but always remember this could be (and perhaps once was) your mother, grandmother or grandfather or anyone else you love.
The (in)famous “priority to the right”. Certain firms have policies which clearly provide specific instructions regarding specific groups of people like pregnant women and usually this policy is clearly visible in company stores. Personally, I haven’t had the honor to enjoy the benefit from that because in reality it means a pregnant woman should carefully mention that right to every person standing in a line before her. In that case, but in other too, as if people have forgotten how to read, but they don’t miss to take the exact change a cashier needs to give them back.
These are only several examples of rude social behavior, but “etiquette” is more than this, it also encompasses cultural guidelines and good hygiene habits, but that is another story.
In any case, neither do I advocate the attitude that ‘being young means being reckless and foolish’, nor do I feel that respect is something we should take for granted. Our society is in dire need of people showing respect to other people. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices” – true and beneficiary both. It’s okay to follow your principles, but let us not to become like characters from Orwell’s work, hard to tell a man from an animal.
Translation: G. Dujmović