Back in 1964 (when loving your fellow man was almost compulsory in some form or another, along with interesting facial hair and a general lack of clothing), Peter Paul and Mary hit the charts, bemoaning the lack of flowers in their lives. The song title was probably a euphemism for something or other, but no matter. I have things to say here.
Fast forward 50 years and Peter, Paul (and quite possibly Mary, too) would be rather less concerned with floral deficiency in the modern world and instead be releasing a song entitled ‘Where Have All The Manners Gone?’
The total and utter disappearance of social grace and niceties appears to been gathering slow but steady progress over time. Let me explain further.
I was brought up in a household where ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ were words that automatically tripped off the tongue to express gratitude. If you didn’t say them, you were reminded forcefully that ‘manners cost nothing.’
If you deliberately chose not to use these ‘magic words’ as my mother called them (and still does), you were liable to find yourself on the receiving end of a lecture on how rude you were and the consequences of your social ineptitude. Many a giant Wagon Wheel biscuit has been forfeited in he absence of manners in my childhood. Thus ended my feeble attempts at rebellion.
Growing up, my pockets were full of litter that I carried round with me when I’d been unable to locate a bin in public. As I swapped pockets for handbags, they too began to contain the remnants of sweet wrappers and bus tickets; I physically cannot throw something away unless I have first found a suitable refuse receptacle.
I was taught to smile at people and say ‘Hello.’ To remain standing in other people’s houses until you were invited to sit.
To keep elbows off the dinner table and not speak with my mouth full. To hold doors open for people and offer to help those clearly struggling.
Heavens above, my dad would even ask men in public not to swear in front of my mum! How quaint is that?
With the exception of the last example (since I have no wife but rather an embarrassing fondness for the odd muttered swear word), I have brought my own children up with these values. They too have pockets overflowing with the assorted detritus that comes with being a young adult. They hold doors open for people without thanks and suchlike, and are generally nice human beings who are frustrated at the same things I am.
Being from a different era, Peter Paul and Mary would appreciate and understand these values. So, where have all the manners gone?
Routinely, we jostle each other for space; the best view; the last train seat, the place in the queue we know is not really ours.
Pregnant woman? She should have caught the train earlier. Elderly couple. Why are they travelling at peak time when they could go at any time of the day?
Pah! We don’t have to give up out seats for these people! We can just plug in our iPods, whack up the volume to the maximum and ignore the world, not caring that everyone else can hear the tinny thump, thump, thump that irritates their fellow passengers so much.
I’m alright, Jack. I’ll just put my feet up on the seat opposite as well. They’re only a bit muddy.
We announce on social media with barely-disguised glee how we have belittled, abused or sworn at someone undeserving of our wrath in the course of doing their job; no matter that they were trying to help us or that it wasn’t their fault we were angry; we are the customer, we are always right and we demand to be treated with huge amounts of respect we haven’t earned, and we’ll have a freebie too!
We encourage and propagate these feelings of entitlement amongst ourselves, collectively baying for the scalp of service providers, shop workers and restaurant staff – you tell them! They deserve it! Any level of abuse is acceptable, no matter how disproportionate it may be to the original problem ( whether it be perceived, real or invented)!
When did we become so ingrained in our rudeness towards our fellow man? Why do hospitals need to display signs stating that violence will not be tolerated and that you’ll be expected to wait your turn, and medical staff now consider it an occupational hazard to be assaulted, insulted or shouted at?
Next time you feel yourself getting ready for a showdown with a fellow commuter, the checkout guy at the supermarket, the triage nurse at the hospital or the person driving too slowly for your liking in front of you, instead go and chill out and have a look around for your manners.
You’ll find them right next to your worth as a human being, on a shelf marked ‘Making Life Nicer For Everyone Concerned.’
….P.S. You’re welcome! Never say I forget my manners.