Friday, 12 July 2013

Look, Really...This Getting Along With One Another Isn't Rocket Science

I'm rather keen on a very old-fashioned thing called etiquette, aka good manners. We're not talking about table cutlery here, or any structured system. I'm referring to the basic idea that courtesy to one another is a good way to run our daily affairs.

It begins with a smile. A simple human gesture that says "Hello, I'm here too, let's make the world a better place." After that are the every day "Please" and "Thank you" and so on that cost nothing, take no time at all, and remind us constantly to be grateful. Ritualistic? Sure. Sometimes insincere? Probably, but it's better than not saying it.

But it doesn't end there. Holding a door open for somebody, letting them cross in front of you in a busy place, avoiding collisions with shopping carts by a bit of attention and consideration of others is all great behaviour in a civilized world. Parking thoughtfully, not making a noise late at night, and just generally remembering that you share the planet with other people really is no great sacrifice to you, and makes life better for all of us.

If we consider other people on an ongoing basis, we gain. It's not "all give". We teach by example, and, with a few exceptions that we really can overlook, what goes around comes around.

One of the things we do, as tolerant, well-mannered people, is ignore, or at least pretend to ignore, the quirks and errors of others. We are patient with those whose stories are a bit long-winded or repetitive. We smile gently when are actually bored. We tell our friends not to worry when they spill something. We forgive lateness. We are always pleased to see uninvited guests.......

We choose to allow, in fact, behaviour that we might raise an eyebrow at, out of hospitality and politeness. This is a very good thing.

So, one of the things we do, because of good manners, is overlook the bad manners of others!

You can be sure, that there are plenty of people oblivious to the fact that they are behaving badly, or even aware of it and not caring. They take advantage of our good nature.

I'm also rather keen on a thing we think of as freedom of expression. The right to be me. To behave in a way that allows for my preferences and needs. There is a certain amount of free speech involved here, obviously, but also freedom to dress as I please, move around freely, and have a wide variety of choices as to how my day goes.

We talk about rights as if there was actually a code somewhere to refer to. While there may be civil and criminal laws that limit our behaviour, beyond that there is only manners. So, as an essentially law-abiding person by default, my options of how I conduct myself are largely based on common courtesy.

I don't find it hard. Nine times out of ten my choices fall well within other people's tolerances. There are few occasions where I have to worry about offending others by simply being myself. There are a number of reasons for that. I'm fairly easy-going and peace-seeking by nature, and I have developed a social circle of wise people who are not easily offended. I choose not to mix with those whose social expectations are a problem for me. I surround myself with others who share my preference for give and take. Plus, I live in an area where the prevailing local culture is tolerant and friendly.

But above all I approach life with a "Do as you would be done by" attitude. It's really very simple, I try to treat others as I wish to be treated myself. This has a powerful pay-it-forward effect. I know for a fact, that I have received favours throughout my life, due to this attitude, because people have told me so. In turn, I tell others the same - "I don't mind at all, because I know you'd do the same for me!"

When people don't do this, when they forget others around them, when they don't care how they behave, when they are "me, me, me" oriented, that is when problems occur. Either conflict, or the trampling of the rights of one party to accommodate the other. So, what happens is that one person's bad manners (bad behaviour) push up against another person's good manners (tolerance), and what happens next depends on how assertive the well-mannered person is.

It's like a sort of dance really, as we all try to be ourselves without pushing the limit. But this is how society develops. Rebels break the rules a little bit, and while some people react in horror, others, more aware of what's really happening, think to themselves "Well, it isn't actually doing any harm...." and expectations change.

And for me, it's a nice balance, a way to weigh things up between my natural instinct to be an iconoclast, and my other natural desire not to hurt anyone. I poke the taboos, gently, poke, poke.

And I judge others on how they do at this balance. Yes, I do. Whether they are able to get over themselves, and their ego,  and just be nice, and conversely whether they have the courage to stand up and speak out when something is genuinely ethically wrong, even if it gives people indigestion to hear it.

This stuff isn't easy. I don't think it's supposed to be. I think there's a reason we refer to such things as "social skills" because they must not only be taught, which takes time, but also some basic inherent abilities are required which not everyone has. If they mean no harm we make allowances for them, for their gaucheness, for their disorder, as we see it.

It is my considered opinion, that it is the responsibility of each and every one of us who is not compromised by a disorder, to be aware of all of this and act according. Not to make excuses. Not to blame others for our own shortcomings. Not to try to justify our failings in performing this delicate balance, but to apologize if we fail, and try harder. Awareness is the basis of it all, thinking is required. Sorry.

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