Whatever happened to good manners?
A list of the ways so many people fail to display good manners, common courtesy, and etiquette is too long to present here. While phrases such as “Excuse me,” “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I apologize” have significantly faded from our current generation’s vocabulary, they are still being preserved by many of our senior citizens.
By the 17th century, the manners of the royal courts and aristocracy of Europe had been well established. However, when the colonists crossed the ocean to the New World, they brought with them little in the way of good manners and proper social behavior. By the 19th century, their crude and uncouth ways ultimately gave way to some refinement and proper social graces.
In the years that followed, etiquette, good manners and common courtesy slowly emerged, especially during the Antebellum period of the Old South. While they did suffer some abandonment after the Civil War, the 19th century reintroduced etiquette to young America. Ladies and gentlemen learned the rules of refinement; how to use a knife and fork properly and how to conduct themselves in social circles. “Finishing Schools” flourished teaching them how to move from formal to informal situations with grace and ease.
Two centuries later, a radical change emerged. Most of the previous civilities went by the wayside. Impoliteness was in; politeness was out. Respect for the elderly neared extinction. Television programming depicting current family life provided young viewers with some objectionable forms of behavior. Children answered back to their parents back, walked into rooms without first knocking, and proper table manners were virtually non-existent.
Only a cockeyed optimist would hope for the resurgence of good manners, common courtesy, and proper etiquette. The only road back will be for the mass media to present audiences with examples of respectful and responsible social conduct.
- Professor Eisenberg was born in New York City and now lives in Belleair Bluffs. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. His career consisted of teaching interpersonal/intercultural communication, public speaking, organizational communication, nonverbal communication, group dynamics, and persuasion at four major universities including Pace University and Manhattanville College in New York. His publications include 19 textbooks on various aspects of communication. Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.