Why manners maketh the man

I remember being in an assembly at primary school, which I believe was being delivered by our then headmaster, Peter Boyle.

He was talking about how we should all be polite to each other. Near the end of the talk he proposed the idea that it should be a school rule that we should all be polite to each other and suggested that we vote on it. “All those in favour”, and all the hands in the hall went up, except for one. “All those against”, and one single handle was put into the air – mine.

As a special privilege for daring to decent from the prevailing opinion, I was invited to the front of the hall, to explain to the whole school why I didn’t think being polite to each other was a good rule to have.

I obliged.

My answer what that I thought it was unfair that we should impose such a rule as to me, a rule is a rule that should be followed, and if you break the rule there should be consequences – a punishment of some kind. Yet smiling, or holding a door open isn’t something I feel fits that category. Everyone can have a bad day; sometimes I don’r want to smile, or say good morning, or hold a door for someone.

More importantly though, these are added niceties that we use to show people respect and curtsey. It’s friendly to smile and say good morning. If this was a rule, that therefore had to be followed, how would you know if someone was genuinely being friendly, or simply following a rule? Making it an optional extra gives you the chance to go that extra mile, even if it is a very, very small one, to be nice to someone else. As soon as you make that a rule you must follow, you take that away.

So, I remain steadfast in the views I expressed all those many years ago. We remain a friendly and polite society because manners aren’t a rule, not because they are.



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This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 at 12:12 pm and is filed under Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.