When did it start to be okay to ignore the fundamental tenets of good manners? Of respect for other people? Of common sense?
As a gentleman of a certain generation, I am beginning to notice innumerable illustrations of how the teachings of my parents, for instance, are flouted, seemingly with impunity, by so many people today.
When did it start to be okay, by way of example, for men to leave their hats on while dining in a restaurant? Or while riding in an elevator? Or when meeting someone for the first time?
Was it not always de rigueur to doff one’s hat in such situations?
When did it start to be okay for a gentleman to remain seated when a lady enters the room? Or when greeting someone at a social function? Or when there is no seat left for an elderly person on a crowded subway car?
Was it not an expectation that one would respect one’s elders?
Perhaps it is cantankerous of me to bewail the apparent passing of such social niceties. Maybe I am being overly pernickety in complaining about such faux pas.
And yet, when did it start to be okay to start eating before everyone was seated at the table, their food in front of them? Or to prop oneself on one’s elbows, head lowered almost to the plate, to shovel food in? Or to talk with one’s mouth full?
Was dining not intended as a social occasion where one might enjoy, not only one’s meal, but the pleasant company of one’s family and friends?
And when did it start to be okay to show up for social occasions without a proper RSVP in advance, if requested? Or to arrive fashionably late, or embarrassingly early? Or not to appear at all when expected?
Were politeness and punctuality ever considered superfluous, unwarranted, not of value?
I can scarcely believe I am alone in bemoaning the dumbing-down of our social discourse to the lowest common denominator. Alas, I fear it may be so, based upon the evidence I see on an almost-daily basis.
For instance, when did it start to be okay to interrupt while someone else is speaking? Or to speak over them? Or to ignore them altogether, perhaps by staring pointedly at one’s cellphone?
Was polite conversation not always considered to be an amiable exchange of ideas and opinions, offered with due regard for others’ points of view?
When did it start to be okay to speak loudly in public, to the annoyance of others around? Or to sprinkle one’s speech with profanities? Or to play one’s music so loudly that it impinges upon others’ right to peace?
Was consideration for others not always a hallmark of a polite society?
I suppose, in fairness, I must concede that not everyone is guilty of such breaches of social refinements. In fact, among my circle of friends and acquaintances, there is more adherence than avoidance in evidence. But my circle is not particularly broad.
When did it start to be okay in the wider world to make demands, rather than requests? Or to forget please and thank you? Or to refrain from offering the plate to others before helping oneself?
Are good manners now out of style? Is it considered better in this day and age to receive, rather than to give?
And when did it start to be okay for one to let a door close after walking through, without checking to see if someone might be following close behind? Or to forego standing aside in the first place, holding the door open for the other person? With a smile.
Was such consideration for others not always a hallmark of civilized behaviour?
These contraventions of the social contract that has always held us together are, in my opinion, nothing short of egregious. They tear at the fabric of our human condition, at the ties that bind us, one to the other. We are the lesser for their prevalence.
I have written in the past that my wife (and others, I suspect) consider me a curmudgeon. Perchance, I am. Yet, despite such censure, I cannot stop asking the basic question—when did it start to be okay to ignore the standards of cultured, urbane comportment?
My wife hints at the answer, however.
“When did it start to be okay?” I ask.
“When you got old!” she answers.