Thursday, October 21, 2010

Being civil in an uncivil world

Hi everyone,

This is my first new blog post after a self-imposed hiatus from social media. And, I survived (of course). I was lucky enough to spend the summer with my kids, far north of the city in a small town with no television and all the trappings of Ontario nature, and it was bliss.

When I wasn't building sand castles, playing mini golf or making frequent trips to Dairy Queen, I had some time to think about my fascination with etiquette and whether or not it's still required, relevant or even necessary in our society. My environment provided some interesting insights as I was surrounded by kids out of school, their vacationing parents and retired seniors.

Let's start with the kids. We all know that young children have poor etiquette. Sure, their parents desperately teach them manners and with any luck it sinks in and they remember to say please, thank you and excuse me at the proper time but a concern with the wellbeing of others is just not in the DNA of a youngster. It's in their nature to focus on themselves, their own happiness and what works for them, now! We'll give them a pass because with proper guidance, they will grow out of it, eventually.

Working parents on vacation are usually at their happiest. They're enjoying those precious two weeks in July or August where they don't have to put on a monkey suit, fight traffic or keep ten balls in the air at a time. There's a tiny hint of anguish as their trip counts down from two weeks, to one week to a few days but for the most part, they're contented, enjoying their children, reconnecting with their spouse and maybe even allowing themselves a daydream or two.

And then we get to the seniors. While Canadians over 60 are not immune from the occasional civility slip, they came of age in a time that wasn't punctuated by the endless ringing of cell phones and text message alerts, when it was prudent to keep your personal details to yourself and not be celebrated on reality TV for your bad behaviour, and when deals could be struck with a handshake. I'm not glamorizing this era and I realize we have made a lot of social gains since then. I'm just saying that this cohort seems to have a better grasp of polite conduct and a greater appreciation for face-to-face discussions.

The most pervasive element of my summer environment was a lack of stress, in myself and those around me and while I've always toyed with the idea that stress equals poor etiquette, it is now obvious to me that we live and work in a society that makes it difficult to remember our manners all the time. And even if we remember them, sometimes the world conspires against us and seems to force us to be less than civil, maybe even rude.

For example, if you have all the time in the world, you can live with the driver in front of you going below the speed limit and cruise along behind them. If you're late for the most important meeting in your life and will surely have to incur a parking ticket or even have your car towed just to get there in time, you find yourself slamming on the horn and screaming obscenities. Likewise, of course you know that it's considered rude to talk on your cell phone in line at the coffee shop, but when you're desperately waiting for a call from the only graphic designer in town who's willing to meet your ridiculous, last-minute deadline, you need to pick up right?

What I'm saying is, when you look at the role of etiquette in modern society, there are many people who just don't care and that's sad. But I believe most people truly want to live in a more civil way and they would, if only they lived in a more civil world.

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