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Sunday, January 16, 2011

What Happened to Common Courtesy?

Last week on Lesa's Book Critiques, Lesa Holstine reviewed Whoopi Goldburg's new book Is It Just Me? Or Is It Nuts Out There? which deals with the lack of common courtesy and respect in our society. The review sparked a discussion on common courtesy and good manners (or the lack thereof) and I'd like to continue that discussion here today.

It has been said that one of the first signs of the decline of a society or civilization is the loss of common courtesy.  If that's true, we're in big trouble.  Now, I'll admit, I may have a different perspective on this than some of you because of my age.  I'm a little old gray haired grandmother, a card carrying senior citizen.  So I've seen a lot of changes in what constitutes good manners.  I remember when swearing in public was actually against the law.  I remember when children addressed adults as Mr. or Mrs. (etc.), when men's hats were removed indoors, when a younger person would yield their seat to an elder (I started to do this recently and realized the person I was offering my seat to was probably younger than I am - oops), and when everyone stood (gasp) when the American flag went by.

But what difference does it make?  Really.  Is anyone hurt if we all sit down to dinner in ball caps, probably worn backward?  If my neighbor's children called me Linda instead of Mrs. Leszczuk? If teenage girls want to walk through the mall using language that would make a sailor blush? What's the harm?

I think it has to do with where we draw the line.  For example, when I went to school, back in the dark ages, it was a punishable offense not to address our teachers as 'Sir' or 'Ma'am'.  So if a young man felt the need to show off, to show his disdain for school rules or his indifference to punishment, all he had to do was fail to use the proper form of address.  Bingo - he was a rebel.  A tough guy.  A hero to his peers.  But what about now?  With even the most basic levels of courtesy gone from our schools, with foul language the unofficially accepted norm, if that young man wants to make his point, what are his options?  Vandalism? Physical violence?

The problem is if we set the line of what's acceptable too far out there, or if we set the bar so low, we have no buffer.  If we've already abandoned all forms common courtesy, what goes next? 

What do you think?

Special guest alert! Don't miss my blog this Wednesday when I'll be hosting Mary Kennedy, author of the Talk Radio mysteries. And holding my first giveaway!

And don't forget to enter Maria Zannini's great contest for a chance to win a free manuscript critique.

I'm currently enjoying: Liberty Falling by Nevada Barr

Groaner of the Day: A couple lived near the ocean and used to walk the beach a lot. One summer they noticed a girl who was at the beach pretty much every day. She wasn't unusual, nor was the travel bag she carried, except for one thing; she would approach people who were sitting on the beach, glance around furtively, then speak to them. Generally the people would respond negatively and she would wander off, but occasionally someone would nod and there would be a quick exchange of money for something she carried in her bag.

The couple assumed she was selling drugs and debated calling the cops, but since they didn't know for sure they just continued to watch her. After a couple of weeks, the wife said, "Honey, have you ever noticed that she only goes up to people with boom boxes and other electronic devices?" He hadn't, and said so.

Then she said "Tomorrow I want you to get a towel and our big radio and go lie out on the beach. Then we can find out what she's really doing." Well, the plan went off without a hitch and the wife was almost hopping up and down with anticipation when she saw the girl talk to her husband and then leave. The man walked up the beach and met his wife at the road. "Well? Is she selling drugs?" she asked, excitement pouring out with her voice.

"No, she's not." he said, enjoying this probably more than he should have.

"Well? What is it, then? What does she do?" his wife fairly shrieked.

The man grinned and said, "She's a battery salesperson."

"A battery salesperson?" cried the wife.

"Yes," he replied, "She sells 'C' cells by the sea shore."

(I'm sorry, Maria.)


Mason Canyon said...

I love your post and I agree with it 120 percent. You definitely nailed it.

BTW, cute groaner too.

Thoughts in Progress

Dru said...

Great post. Common courtesy starts at home. the groaner. That one got a hearty laugh from me.

Maria Zannini said...

When you make a point, you really make it.

You are absolutely right about drawing the line. And we all draw them as an individual, a community, a state, and a country.

When the lines are erased, the last bastion is anarchy.

Ref: groaner
I have got to cut you off. I'll find your supplier someday.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Mason - Thanks. I guess my closing question should have, what do we do about it? How do we begin to turn this around?

Linda Leszczuk said...

Dru - That's certainly true. I always thought the concept of "company manners" defeated the purpose.

And whenever I find a groaner that makes me laugh out loud, I know you're going to like it, too.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Maria - But as I mentioned above, how do we go about re-drawing those lines? It's got to start somewhere.

Cut me off? Never! I'm unstoppable! You'll never defeat me! Bwa-ha-ha-ha.

MaryC said...

Great blog, Linda. Leave us laughing and then sock us with a difficult question.

I guess the first step in doing something about it is convincing people that something needs doing. The NY Times has an article this morning on the absolute lack of civility at last night's Golden Globe Awards. At least they're speaking out about the rude comments by the host and even the award-winners.

Becky Barton (Robbins) said...

I totally agree with all starts at home, but the schools are not helping much by allowing bullying there. What we see on TV plays a part as well....


Arlee Bird said...

You and I are in the same age bracket I guess. I have noticed these same things about society these days and become so disappointed. I think it's primarily a combination of bad media influence and poor parental unbringing.

The language thing is particularly disturbing to me. I listen to the schoolkids as they pass by on their way home from school and they're just casually using language that was rarely heard when I was a kid and shocking when it was heard. Now it's just part of normal conversation and I find it very distasteful. No wonder so many people have turned to tattoos, piercings, and other outre styles self-expression. I shudder to think what the next generation will turn to in order to shock their elders.

Tossing It Out

MengleOh67 said...

I'm afraid I'm going to answer your question with a question.... Is it really a question of common curtesy or is it about respect?

I have 5 children.... the oldest are 24 & 22, the middle two are 19 &17, and the baby is 7... I see such a change in the generations of young people between my two oldest and my middle two and to me it centers around respect... actually the lack of respect for anything including themselves.

There have always been bullies, always mentally unbalanced youth, always those with a lack of good moral values. Yet even among the bullies and thieves and crazies there seemed to be a line of respect, a code that when broken showed poorly even to other thugs and thieves. Even that line seems to have been erased and nothing matters except "self"

Linda Leszczuk said...

Lee - Thanks for becoming a Follower. I've already returned the favor.

I do think those of us who are older have a harder time with what's acceptable in society these days. When I hear the language the kids use, especially the girls, it makes me want to weep. I'm all for gender equality but there is still such a thing as a "lady". Or there should be.

Linda Leszczuk said...

MB - I agree there is a relation between courtesy and respect, or maybe between courtesy and respectful behavior. I read somewhere that courtesy should be automatic but respect must be earned. But most certainly the lack of respect - for others and for self - is a big part of this issue.

Linda Leszczuk said...

MaryC - I'm sorry, I'm answering these out of order. I didn't watch the Golden Globes last night, but I'm not surprised. The entertainment industry sure doesn't earn any kudos for setting a good example. Quite the opposite most of the time.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Becky - Maybe the minimum standards for acceptable behavior have to be the same aross the board. Home, school, and anywhere in public. AND on TV.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

My husband is often telling me that my “little old lady” side is showing. I agree the things you mentioned aren’t life and death issues, but a lot depends on the tone or body language used. I think some people, young and old, thrive on being rude.

N. R. Williams said...

That was too funny.

On a more serious note. I think today's youth could use a good measures of the Ten Commandments. There has been a study of this in response to school shootings and they found that since the atheist have won so many lawsuits denying the mention of God in schools things have gone south. Interesting.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many wars could have been averted if manners were used. Probably quite a few.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Jane - Do you find yourself wondering sometimes when good manners became "little old lady" old fashioned?

Linda Leszczuk said...

Nancy - No argument on that whatsoever. The loss of a shared moral base would be another sign of a society in trouble.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Stephen - Wouldn't it be nice if we could avert a few future ones that way?