Eti­quette al­ways here

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES -

Lord knows, it’s easy enough to look around and be­lieve one is wit­ness­ing what has been called a dis­in­te­gra­tion of man­ners. It is prob­a­bly cold com­fort to sug­gest, with Edgar in King Lear, that “the worst is not, so long as we can say ‘This is the worst’.” It may be a tri­fle more com­fort­ing to re­mem­ber that there will al­ways be eti­quette. There will al­ways be some­thing that “isn’t done” and ways of sig­nal­ing that one knows how to be­have.

Ad­mit­tedly, these pe­ri­ods of flux and chang­ing man­ners can be nerve-wrack­ing. We must not let per­sonal prej­u­dice ob­struct our vi­sion. Not all that is dif­fer­ent is sav­age. “Bar­baric” is re­ally just Greek for “that which is not Greek.” But even sav­ages and can­ni­bals have their eti­quettes. Even if it is per­mis­si­ble to eat your dead un­cle, there will be some­thing so­ci­ety frowns on, and the well-bred necrophage will strive not to do it.

What is ac­cepted as good man­ners may change more quickly than we might like. Not so very long ago Mon­sieur Mon­taigne was hold­ing forth at din­ner some very en­light­ened hu­man­ist views. It is still pop­u­lar to quote him, but few to­day would much en­joy sit­ting at a ta­ble with him. He had lit­tle use for those new­fan­gled spoons and forks, pre­fer­ring to eat with his hands, a style that was only just be­gin­ning to be viewed as old-fash­ioned. Ladies of cul­ture could still be seen to wipe their fin­gers in their hair. STAN­LEY G. JOHN­SON

Lit­tle Rock

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