Most of you who have been my digital friends for the last three-plus years have probably at one time or another read the "About Me" piece over there on the left of your screen, if only to wonder if this guy is for real or what. Buried in that little section is this sentence: "I believe in courtesy, common sense, and fair play."
Courtesy. It's one of those things we don't see quite as much as we used to, especially in larger cities. I've gotten used to self-important people whose time is obviously much more important than mine, who shove ahead of me to get just the right seat on the bus, who see nothing wrong with cutting into lines, who have no problem with chatting loudly on their cell phones at the movies, or cutting you off in traffic, or ... well ... you get the idea. The common courtesy, the manners that parents of my generation drilled relentlessly into us when we were young seem to have gone south like a vee of geese honking their way across an autumn horizon.
I'm not the only person to note this.
Last weekend we were in Borders, where Agnes was busily squeezing the last dime out of a long-lost gift card I'd found in the rubble on her side of the desk in the study. While I was browsing the shelves, talking myself out of hundreds of dollars worth of gotta-haves, I spotted this little gem: Why Manners Matter: The Case for Civilized Behavior in a Barbarous World, by Lucinda Holdforth. I could hardly pass up a book like that, and so it is now my commuting book, and I'm about halfway through it (having started it yesterday morning) - it's only 172 small, but wonderful pages.
This isn't an etiquette guide (Ms Holdforth has nothing but scorn for those), but an essay on the importance of manners, of what we might once have called (and I still do) following the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. It isn't a preachy book, but a thoughtful one that ought to be read by the very people who would never think to read such a thing.
"In a gesture combining laziness and pragmatism," Ms Holdforth writes, "How about (a modern template for manners) something like:
"1. Keep to the left (or right, depending on jurisdiction).
"2. Keep your word (especially about time).
"3. Wait your turn.
"4. Look after the weak.
"5. Obey the laws and regulations, unless you are mounting a campaign of civil disobedience.
"6. Watch what you are doing: multitasking is the enemy of manners.
"7. Show appreciation for the kind gestures of others; and,
"8. Most of the time, shut up."
The rest of the book is much like this...a breezy, practical, somewhat sad essay on what has happened to what we once called good manners and what we might do to get them back.
I strongly recommend this book, although I doubt very much that any of my regular readers actually need it. I think most of you will probably read it and end up with a sore neck from nodding your head in constant agreement. It's sad that someone decided it was necessary to write a book like this, but such is the temper of our time. If you read Why Manners Matter and enjoy it, you can move on to something more erudite, like Stephen L. Carter's Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy. It's about twice as long and a lot more preachy, but has the same message.
And he wrote it eleven years ago.
Isn't it a shame that Lucinda Holdforth saw a need to write something similar in 2009?
Have a good day. Be polite...it won't kill you. More thoughts tomorrow.