I’ve been writing about manners each Monday for a while now. The process has helped me clarify my own thoughts on the subject and I think they boil down to these points:
1. Manners aren’t about rules and ettiquette. If your focus is on putting others at ease – helping them to feel welcome, accepted and comfortable you are probably doing alright in the manners department.
2. Most people aren’t intentionally rude. When you start to feel offended or angry, before responding, take a moment to consider if you have misinterpreted the situation: is it possible that the other person is actually trying to be polite, but you both have different cultural expectations about what politeness looks like? Is it possible that the other person is ignorant of the fact their behaviour has offended you? Is it possible that the person’s behaviour is just fine, but you are reading some hidden agendas into it. In otherwords you are offended by what you imagine their intention is, rather than their actual intention?
3. When responding to bad manners, keep points one and two in mind. It may not be worth raising the issue at all with the other person, but if you do decide to raise it, you won’t make any progress if you don’t put them at ease. Try to not to use language that accuses or condems – this really won’t help, especially if they hadn’t intended to be rude. Instead try using “I feel” statements to explain how a behaviour affects you. Humour works well too.
In most cases, its probably not worth raising the issue at all.
There is a famous story about Eleanor Roosevelt which sums things up well. When one of her guests was offered a finger bowl between courses, he mistook it for soup, picked up a spoon and started to sip it. Instead of pointing out his error, Eleanor Roosevelt picked up her spoon and consumed the contents of her finger bowl as well.
The rules of etiquette and good manners aren’t the point. Its the spirit which is important – that spirit of accepting other people, caring for them and upholding their dignity. If we keep that in mind when we deal with other people we should be able to navigate the rockiest of relationships.
Now, if I could only remember to follow my own advice….