Monday, November 24, 2008

Uncommon courtesy

Over on the excellent Ambush Predator, JuliaM links to a couple of blogs which basically tackle the same issue - the lack of respect and the absence of manners from society - and it is an issue which I feel very strongly about.

When I was a kid it was something that was drummed into me by my parents, teachers and just about every authority figure I can think of - good manners cost nothing, mind your p's and q's (pleases and thankyous - in case you were wondering), do unto others as you would have them do unto you - that sort of thing.

The basic principle was simple - treat people with common courtesy. That's the thing, though - back then courtesy was common, but these days it is decidedly uncommon. I suppose, looking back on it, that is the underlying phenomenon of the Ross/Brand affair - two grown adults who don't understand what courtesy is and how it should be applied in society. Their behaviour is an example of something which has become endemic in Britain today - rudeness.

It's not just the rudeness of using offensive language in their everyday conversation, but the lack of polite manners that govern the way people interact with each other on a daily basis. I get infuriated when I am spending my hard earned cash in a shop or garage and the cashier doesn't even have the decency to say "please" when they ask for the money - and then can't be bothered to say "thankyou" once I hand it over! Is it really too hard to say those words for so many people?

Personally, I believe this all stems - once again - from the sixties. The British were renowned the world over for their manners and reserve, but back in the sixties the British "reserve" was suddenly turned into a negative thing - a symbol of repression. I don't believe it was ever the case that the British people were "repressed" in any real sense, though.

We weren't reserved because we were repressed, we were reserved because we believed in common courtesy, respect for others, for authority and for rule of law and quiet dignity over showy emotional outbursts.

However, since the sixties we have been encouraged through various media - television, films, newspapers and so on - to "let it all hang out". Instead of keeping our feelings to ourselves we were told that we should reveal our emotions to the world as if that was a good thing.

I don't think it was a good thing. The consequence was a rise in bad manners and a lack of consideration for others. A lot of people point to the Thatcher years as the birth of the "me" generation, but in truth it happened a long time before that. The sixties was the true start of the "it's all about me" thinking and the decline in respect and manners that that, inevitably, creates.

This isn't the first time we've had such a problem. It was the same back in the early 19th century and it was something which the Victorians were very conscious of. They managed to restore common courtesy principally through the practice of Christianity. This was coupled with a restoration of respect for authority and the rule of law, but those two things could only happen with the return of Christian morality (the rule of law is dependent on the belief that there is an ultimate authority above the state which will judge you - and that ain't the UN!).

The Victorians demonstrated that common courtesy can be restored, but it does require that we first recognise the need to restore it and then consciously work to restore it. It doesn't just happen.

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