Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Minding our manners

By Eric Magazu

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It’s a topic not often addressed, but it’s an important one: the concept of manners. By this, I mean the common courtesies that have been set by established rules that originated in the past. Conventional thinking is that manners and politeness are something that really took off in the Victorian era and that they may or may not be applicable in our day. I thought I’d offer my thoughts on manners and how they impact us today.

 

There are many rules that have been constructed through the passage of time. It may be difficult to find the rationality in some of them, but most do have some reasonable basis. It may simply be a way of doing things that is just a little bit easier than if done by a way that is not in accordance with the rules. Rules for formal dinner parties may fall into this category.

However, a wise person once revealed to me the fundamental basis of all manners.This basis is that manners are intended so that we act in a way that makes the other people around us the most comfortable. In other words, when we use manners, we put other people at ease.

It seems to me that college students in particular are more apt to rebel against established precedents and this is perhaps because they do not understand their basis. In most time periods, this brief rebellion has been quashed as the generation comes of age, but in the 1960s and later, the rebellions of the younger generations have typically succeeded and, as a result, many rules, morals, traditions and manners have gone by the wayside.

The end result of discarding these traditions is that we have a somewhat less civilized discourse among each other and more coarse society. Nevertheless, to restore civility does not necessarily require a return to old fashioned traditions, but may simply require going back to the basis for manners, and that is the idea of acting in a way that puts the other people around us at ease.

To some degree, conformity is not so much about quashing our individuality, as is often argued, but rather it is about ensuring that our behavior is rational and allows others to anticipate our actions. By acting this way, all of us benefit by not having to always be on defense. In fact, it is quite the contrary; it actually frees up our time to focus on our individual talents.

There is an intriguing parallel that can be made between manners and religion. However, the fact that I just drew this connection between manners and religion requires me to point out that these two important subjects are often conflated together, and that this is a serious error. I think the mistake is often made that if someone is involved with a church and is polite and friendly to everyone at the church and with everyone in general, that such a person must indeed be a solid member of the church and in good standing with God. The converse of this mistake is itself a mistake and that is the idea that anyone who claims to be religious better be polite with everyone she or he meets in life. This is not true at all, as politeness really has no connection with religious matters, at least if we are to believe Jesus.

Jesus Christ stresses the point of separating the following of rules and possessing a true connection with God. If we are to believe Jesus and the wise person mentioned previously, religion and manners are often both erroneously categorized as mandating rules to follow, but, at their respective cores, neither are about the rules at all. The goal of religion is to have the connection with God and goal of manners to maximize the comfort of our fellow human beings. Any rules that flow from this idea may be helpful for some people, but should not be mistaken as a substitute for the fundamental basis of our relationship with either God or man.

As students, we need to reassess our take on some of the things we may have dismissed previously, and rather than insist upon an unlimited ability to express ourselves without regard to the feelings of others, we should instead look at a global perspective of how our personal behavior impact others.

We ought to seriously consider the hypothesis that conformity in certain areas may actually result in an increase in our ability to express our individuality in other areas, and that defying the world of manners may unexpectedly result in a narrowing of our ability to express ourselves in areas where it may have much more significant meaning.

Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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