The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Lifestyle -

Is it bad man­ners to talk about good man­ners? Like pol­i­tics and re­li­gion, there is a feel­ing in cer­tain quar­ters that such topics are best left un­men­tioned in po­lite com­pany. Since good man­ners seem to be on the de­cline per­haps few peo­ple care any more. The trou­ble is that all too of­ten the niceties of life get lost in the wel­ter of heav­ier is­sues, but then, as we were al­ways told as chil­dren, if the pen­nies are looked af­ter, the pounds will take care of them­selves, and so the demon­stra­tion of good man­ners is surely an in­di­ca­tor of a con­sid­er­ate un­der­ly­ing char­ac­ter. My own up­bring­ing as the son of a work­ing-class York­shire cou­ple (fa­ther a plumber, full-time mother a for­mer mill­worker) taught my sis­ter and me the im­por­tance of “please” and “thank you”, of “please may I” rather than “can I”, of ask­ing be­fore we left the ta­ble, and of never us­ing the word “hate”. Th­ese are mere high­lights of a code of be­hav­iour that be­came ac­cepted in our house as the norm. It did not in­volve any dis­com­fort on our part, and it did seem to help us get by in life with­out putting too many backs up. When walk­ing down the street I would take off my school cap if a fu­neral cortege passed by. If some­one in our street died, all the neigh­bours would pull their cur­tains. The last two cus­toms have fallen by the way­side, but I still baulk at those who wear hats (or base­ball caps) in­doors, and I find it im­pos­si­ble to walk on the in­side of the pave­ment when ac­com­pa­ny­ing a mem­ber of the op­po­site sex. My neat side­ways step be­hind them does some­times cause women who are not ac­quainted with this old cus­tom to won­der what the heck I am do­ing, but there you are. It mat­ters to me. And when it comes to prac­ti­cal­i­ties, it is me who gets splashed by the pass­ing ve­hi­cle when it goes through a pud­dle. Ta­ble man­ners make for the com­fort of fel­low din­ers as well as be­ing use­ful in avoid­ing em­bar­rass­ment. Who wants to lis­ten to some­one chomp­ing away with his or her mouth open, or talk­ing when it is full of food and send­ing gob­bets of it on to the cloth­ing of their com­pan­ions? And yet, with more of us glued to the screens of com­put­ers, lap­tops, mo­bile phones and tablets for the bet­ter part of the day, and fewer sit­ting down at a ta­ble to­gether to eat with knives and forks, one won­ders how long th­ese so­cial graces will con­tinue to sur­vive. Op­er­at­ing in iso­la­tion, with lit­tle need for so­cial in­ter­course, it is no sur­prise that so­cial and so­cia­ble be­hav­iour suf­fers when many have so lit­tle op­por­tu­nity to prac­tise it. We stal­warts still open doors for ladies, in spite of fre­quently be­ing on the re­ceiv­ing end of ei­ther a glare or else no re­ac­tion at all. At the risk of sound­ing like your grandma: “a thank you costs noth­ing”. And I open the door out of re­spect, out of help­ful­ness, not be­cause of a mis­guided feel­ing of su­pe­ri­or­ity. Those women who de­plore this kind of be­hav­iour say more about their own grim at­ti­tude to life rather than that of the per­pe­tra­tor of the act. It is in­tended as a pleas­ant com­pli­ment and it would be nice if it could be taken as one. I’d lay down my coat in a pud­dle for a smile. What is also un­der­es­ti­mated, more and more in the busi­ness world, is the value of good man­ners to­wards em­ploy­ees. With ever more im­por­tance be­ing placed on prof­its and cost ef­fec­tive­ness, it is as­ton­ish­ing just how many large com­pa­nies place no value at all on staff re­la­tions. Now, if this sounds like mere whimsy, for­give me, but if you work for a com­pany that treats you well, not just fi­nan­cially but in terms of thought­ful­ness and con­sid­er­a­tion of your feel­ings, you will more than likely be will­ing to go the ex­tra mile. A boss who says “hello”, es­pe­cially if he knows your first name, will en­gen­der far more loy­alty than one who breezes by and ig­nores you. This at­ti­tude to staff costs noth­ing. Ab­so­lutely zilch. And yet it pays div­i­dends in terms of staff morale and – ul­ti­mately – prof­itabil­ity. It as­ton­ishes me that more busi­nesses do not ap­pre­ci­ate this sim­ple and inar­guable fact. And it is not just in busi­ness that good man­ners yield sur­pris­ing re­sults. Think how grate­ful you feel when a fel­low mo­torist sig­nals to you to come out in front of him in a traf­fic queue. It works in re­verse, too. Let some­one else in and what do you lose? Five sec­onds in terms of get­ting to your desti­na­tion. What do you gain? A warm feel­ing in­side. That said, un­der­ly­ing the out­ward demon­stra­tion of good man­ners must be a firmly held be­lief in their value; the cyn­i­cal use of such niceties is worse than their be­ing ig­nored. There are those who take great of­fence at be­ing called “love”, or “duck”, or “mate”, or even “dar­ling” by those peo­ple who are not of their close ac­quain­tance – the girl at the su­per­mar­ket check­out, the cold caller. While I sym­pa­thise in the lat­ter case (Mr Titch­marsh to you, and cer­tainly not my first name, thank you) I can’t help but feel that the friend­li­ness of the faceto-face greet­ing can too of­ten be mis­taken for over-fa­mil­iar­ity. When tempted to bri­dle at be­ing called “dar­ling” by some­one I don’t know, I have to re­mind my­self of my own par­tic­u­lar trait. As a York­shire­man, I con­fess to reg­u­larly ad­dress­ing work col­leagues, and even peo­ple I don’t know and to whom I am speak­ing on the tele­phone as “love”. It is, I would claim in my de­fence, my na­tive id­iom, and while it may cause of­fence to a few, it is in­tended as no more than a dec­la­ra­tion of pleas­ant­ness in a world filled with too many far greater trou­bles. That is surely at the heart of good man­ners – the abil­ity to di­vine the feel­ings be­hind them and take them for what they are – an out­ward ex­pres­sion of gen­uine good­will in­tended to make the re­cip­i­ent feel at ease, com­fort­able, val­ued and re­spected in a world where lack of con­sid­er­a­tion for the feel­ings and be­liefs of oth­ers has led to count­less tragedies. I shall bat­tle on. I shall keep walk­ing on the out­side of the pave­ment and be­ing splashed by cars; I shall in­sist on re­mov­ing any head­gear I may be wear­ing when I en­ter a house, and I shall keep of­fer­ing my seat to ladies and my el­ders on the train and open­ing doors for any­one at all, re­gard­less of their age and gen­der. I do it be­cause I can and be­cause I think it mat­ters. Even if they don’t.

Kind­ness costs noth­ing: some of our so­cial eti­quette may be old-fash­ioned but we should strive to up­hold good man­ners

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