Are manners in decline. If so, why?

The idea that people are becoming less courteous seems to be universally shared. {See this thread.) I have the sense that people are, but I wonder whether this is necessarily true. There are a number of factors that might contribute to a false impression about this:[ul]

  • selective memory- we tend to forget unpleasantness and remember the good times.
  • selective media - I’m sure that “Leave it to Beaver” wasn’t an acurate portrayal of society, but many people’s impressions are based on mediated “memories.”
  • selective memory II - in the short term, we tend to remember unusual experiences and generalize, thus a guy who is rude to me today leads me to despair of modern manners, even though the polite other two hundred people I interact with are forgotten (in the short term)
  • a change in demographics - Perhaps young people have always been rude, but they play a more active role in our culture now.
  • much, much more.

Once again, I tend to think that courtesy is declining, thus the second part of my question - why?

[sub]p.s. I was uncertain about the placement of this thread, please accept my apologies if it is misplaced.[/sub]

I agree that they seem to be declining, and I believe it has to do with TIME. It takes a great deal of time and repetition to teach manners, we, as a society, go so fast, with so much more to do, with less time to do it all. People prioritize, and what * may seem * less important will get dropped first.

I’m 47, with two sons, one is in college, and he’s told me that he’s been made fun of for saying ‘Pardon me’ when getting in the lunch lines with other college kids.

Another reason may be, we are getting more ‘familiar’ with each other. Being older, I don’t like being called ‘Judy’ by kids my children’s ages just because I’m their customer for the moment. And yet, that’s deemed as being ‘friendly’. Manners may be seen as being ‘stuffy’ and more ‘formal’, though, obviously, I don’t agree.

Maybe it also has to do with the continued emphasis on the individual, with less focus on the society/community/village. I think people dedicate less increasingly less thought to their neighbors and more to themselves.

I think manners and etiquette tend to grease the skids of society and make us all work together better. When people give less of a rat’s ass about the community, it stands to reason that they’ll also have less understanding and appreciation of why one should bother with being decent.

I agree. Time to learn the manners, and time to use them are issues as well. I was raised to be a gentleman in every respect, but I find that if I take the time to open doors for ladies, or elders, sometimes they get impatient. If I say “Yes, sir,” I may be insulting someone because it makes them feel old (I say DEAL with it!). It was especially funny, when I was working as a substitute teacher at the junior high and high school levels, to see the looks on the kids faces when I addressed THEM as sir and ma’am. :slight_smile: It showed them that I respected them, and the ones that caught on were so much nicer to deal with (even the ones that were the “problem kids”).

I will not change my ways, because the few people who seem to apppreciate it make me realize that I am on the right track. Manners may be on the decline, but it is people like us, that actually care about treating the people around us with respect, that make it all worthwhile.

I find it refreshing to see others practice “old-fashioned” manners. It brightens my day to see a man walk around to the passenger side of the car to open the door for his SO. It brightens my day to see someones face display a bright smile because I held the door for them. These are simple pleasures, and simple pleasures are the fabric of my existence. Hang in there, there’s hope, still.

I think maybe all those things. And maybe simple carelessness, i.e. either not caring enough to be courteous or not seeing why it matters.

I’m all in favor of assertion, but that’s different from aggression. “Polite” doesn’t mean fake or wimp; it means self mastery first–which is a much harder, finer thing than diffused “me, me, me” paranoia. I purely hate casual rudeness mostly because it’s so stupid and unneccessary. In the long run courtesy takes less time, works infinitely better and is all around easier.

As to why it’s this way, I dunno. I suspect that somewhere along the line we simply stopped valuing it enough. I wish, sincerely wish, there’d be even one promiment figure valued for his/her courtesy and self control rather than public escapades, near (or comlete) nudity, in-your-face spewing, etc.

“Irony” gets thrown around a lot as a buzzword. Well, here’s a great example. Supposedly “fake” self-control and courtesy are devalued in favor of uncouth selfishness masquerading as honesty. Go figure.


Another theory…
…that I read about in the local paper is that since family dinners are basically a thing of the past, people neither have the time to learn mannners nor the setting in which to practice them. Table manners, that is.

I couldn’t agree more.

I work for a catering company, go to all kinds of events, sports stars, banquets, political events, doctors, lawyers, judges, fancy schmancy events, weddings. All very expensive events to throw.

You would be shocked to see what people think is appropriate behaviour.

It’s like society has becomes so relaxed that, especially after a couple of drinks, people get so comfy they start to behave like they are at a BBQ.

And weddings, well no one has a clue anymore, the caterers are telling everyone what to do and where to go, it’s unbelievable. You would not believe what I have heard people get up and say in speeches at weddings. I want to scream, “Hey, there are great Aunties and Grandparents here, shut your cakehole and sit down”.

And quit bringing your kids to corporate events in places like art galleries. There is nothing for them to do and no one will believe they wanted to come. Eventually they will catch their hand in the door ( the only thing to toy with ) or break something. No doubt you’ll shout at them in the car.

Just when I think I’ve seen it all I see something else.

But ultimately I think it is like all things, it will swing back the other way.

It’s not really about relaxing like at a BBQ, it’s about knowing when it’s appropriate, really.

YOu forgot the main reason manners are in decline:

Miss Manners is such a stuck up smartass she gives the topic a bad stink. :smiley:

I think another thing that’s having an impact on courtesy as we see it today is the intermingling of different cultures, and different interpretations of courtesy which are being integrated into societies worldwide.

Whereas in the past one set of table manners was sufficient, now you can have entirely different rules depending on which style of cuisine you’re enjoying. Chinese? Chopsticks. Ethiopian? Fingers. Thai? I’m still not sure. Even American and European table manners are significantly different.

In terms of basic courtesy, there are whole new sets of rules to learn. In the workplace, you need to be PC to survive. Posting to message boards has its own protocols.

I think what we’re seeing is a period of transition in manners; technological change being mirrored on a societal level. Manners have always been a means of making societal interactions more pleasant and efficient for all parties involved; with the variety of circumstances and participants involved in today’s interactions, it will take a while to iron out the protocols.


I heard a radio commentary yesterday which described opera as a “full body workout” for our empathetic response. The reason I mention this is that this made me wonder - What do we exercise our empathetic response for? It seems to me that courtesy and simple kindness are the among the most important ends to all our efforts. It is ironic that we sacrifice these to means such as making money and conserving of effort.

As for Miss Manners, are you speaking of Judith Martin specifically, of of the Miss Manners type. Although I haven’t the pleasure of reading Ms. Martin’s column on a regular basis, my impression is that she is an extraodinarily pragmatic and humble person. In most of the columns I have read, she has made an effort to guide people away from nasty, picayune matters of ettiquette and toward a more general concept of kindness and empathy.

As for the “Miss Manners type,” I agree; people who hold formality over kindness do give the idea of manners a bad name. IMHO, this is also the problem with P.C.ism. By demonizing every possibly offensive statement or action, the extreme P.C.ers have given a bad name to what should be considered simple courtesy. At the same time, they have given the Eminems of the world an excuse for ignorant bigotry by providing them the excuse of "You shouln’t be so P.C.

Ultimately, courtesy can be neither codified, nor legislated.

By hte way, I realize the Miss Manners line was a joke, but I just couldn’t stand by and let such a nice lady be defamed.