Sunday, July 21, 2024
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Etiquette, where art thou?

These days, people are in so much of a rush within their lives that they simply have no time for civility. Years ago, it cost nothing to open doors for people, or to give up your bus seat for an elderly person. Nowadays, that rarely happens as people ride roughshod over others, writes Befikadu Eba.

It had been a rough day, so when I left office, I was very nonchalant, despite my efforts to appear consolate. But I seemed to be waiting for a switch to flip inside me, some internal confirmation for what has been clinging in my thoughts of late.

It was a crowded restaurant; I was sitting next to a woman whose long hair with its mass of flowiness trumpets femininity. Before I even note, she started raking her fingers through her hair with such an enthusiasm that I was left in a totally different mood – legitimately in a position expecting falling hairs in the food I eat. May be I am wrong, but I can’t handle the idea of finding a foreign hair strand on me. I consider it as an invasion of my personal space and an altogether lack of manners. 

She was not done yet. She started applying lipstick – mind you – in a restaurant when people around are dinning. To add to my loathe, she was using the back of the spoon as a mirror. This, for me, is one of the dirtiest and grossest things a person can do. But no one seemed bothered – her acquaintances or people near her – including my friends. I didn’t think the tune to acknowledge the fact that people even exist has become this much none-existent. I didn’t think our morals went this low.

As time passes by, many of us face a serious challenge against decaying morals and a growing poor courtesy. These days, people are in so much of a rush within their lives that they simply have no time for civility. Years ago, it cost nothing to open doors for people, or to give up your bus seat for an elderly person. Nowadays, that rarely happens as people ride roughshod over others. They just walk over others without a second thought or glance back.

We seem stuck rigid in our own world. In fact, it has become a world within a world, as people prefer communication with each other through their electronic devices. The ability to say, ‘thank you’, to smile, to pull out a chair or open a door for people seems to have disappeared for good. Polite words no longer come as fluently from mouths, especially in the younger generation, as they once did. Manners on the whole have become like diamonds or precious jewels: they are rare to have and also worth so much. I am not that very old but even when I was young, manners were on top of the agenda in family, in school and in everyday life. People would stand up to shake hands, hold doors open, help someone with heavy bags if they needed to. There was no as much disrespect towards authority: teachers, parents, higher ups or elderly as there is now.

I believe that eventhough it is not in its entirety wrong, parents are becoming more and more like their children’s friends rather than setting themselves apart as an authority figure. Because of this, children do not have as a strong perception of parents as an authority figure as previous generations have had; children do not fear and respect their parents in the same way. As a direct result, children talk to their parents as they would their peers which will not be in the most respectful tone. That then infiltrates into the other areas of interaction children have with people around them. They see that at home it is alright to speak to their parents the way they do because their parents permit it so they perceive it to be alright in all areas of interaction.

Good manners have been left, far behind in the dim and distant past; a past in which the world was a lot simpler and slow-paced; a world in which people were a lot more friendly and forthcoming. And a world in which society was happier, lighter and willing to help others at the drop of a hat, when a person needed help.

Perhaps good manners have become an endangered species, although they have yet to gain “protected” status. Almost everyone still enjoys being on the receiving end of polite treatment, but few seem to care to cultivate the behavior in themselves. Good manners have to be cultivated, they seldom grow naturally. Clearly, there is a lot to be said in favor of practicing good manners, much to be gained by simple politeness, but it takes some real effort and motivation to incorporate good manners in our normal behavior.

I remember hearing from my parents lots of instruction on proper behavior as a young man. What happened to that old cliché “Didn’t your mother/father teach you any manners?” The problem is certainly greater than a lack of proper manners. Learning to respect other people is fundamental to a civilized world. But we often fail to recognize the contributions of others since we are so busy promoting ourselves. Our conduct should have reflected the golden rule, treating others as we would like to be treated.

Recently someone gave me a four decades old book on manners. In the introductory part of that book, the author apologized for having to write about things that were so well known. This might be a good reflection of how far respect can be internalized, and in a good way. “In essence”, writes an anonymous author, “courtesy is a culmination of several other acquired virtues, those being respect, acceptance, humility, peace, compassion and kindness.” And this I say, courtesy is, indeed, virtue.

Ed’s Note: Befikadu Eba works at United Bank SC and is a volunteer and advisory Board Member of YMCA Ethiopia. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter or the institutions he is affiliated with. He can be reached at [email protected].

Contributed by Befikadu Eba


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