An essay in support of good manners — which modern society has lost along with modesty, morality, and meaningfulness. (“Good Manners” are so far from public view that it is almost a relief to see any sort of manners in public. Almost.)
By modesty, I refer not merely to keeping one’s clothes on in public, but to the keeping of one’s life as private as possible. Inquiring minds may want to know, but those minds are conditioned by sleaze. Nor has the public a right to know – anything which is unrelated to matters of criminality, and perhaps not even then.
Several television shows are devoted to this disrobing of personal affairs, as I misfortunately discovered one day in a medical office waiting room. For some reason, the TV was tuned to a station which was showing what I found was a highly popular “tell-all” show. It was talking of things which a criminal in a dive would not let pass lips. There were small children in the waiting room. I wondered if the medical staff thought, since the show was from a broadcast network, and not even cable, if it was perfectly OK. When sleaze has become normative, it is nearly impossible to talk to people about the subject in any serious way. Had I my way, Jerry Springer, and all his clones would be placed in the stocks on Boston Common for sins against decency.
By morality, one assumes “sexual” as a prefix, however, morality covers far more ground, from business ethics to gossip.
It refers, actually, to the “mores” of society. To the rules of conduct which govern any society. Business ethics, honor code, courtesy, manners, all fall under the heading of morality. Businessmen who squeeze their employees fall into the dim vestibule of a bad morality, as do those who say, “let us play the (immoral) game, else we will lose what we have.”
Yet, there is another thing, when the mores of a society are corrupt. For extreme example, in a nation not so long ago, it was considered “moral” to enslave certain other human beings, on the basis of an abundance, or lack, of melanin in the skin. In another nation of more recent vintage, it was considered moral to murder anyone with a physical or mental defect, and many more who were considered “vermin” by the ruling powers. Yet, these mores were wrong.
The only universal rule which seems to be common to all societies and peoples is the one known to Christians as “Golden”. Do to others as you would have them do unto you. (And do not do to others what you do not want to have done to yourself.)
As for meaningfulness, is there any doubt the modern ennui and apathy is a direct result of boredom, of a void in the psyche, of a lack of knowing that one’s life already has meaning?
The French existentialists are famous for pondering the Meaning of Life, and also for coming up with short – and wrong — answers. But it is a question everyone asks, notable middle-aged men who realize their youthful ambition has gone about as far as it is going to. And despair. The mid-life crisis. Meh.
Yet every human life is imbued with a marvelous meaning, a wonderful significance. Some look at the scale of the Universe and feel lost. Others look at the Universe and marvel humans can comprehend as much as we do about it. The meaning of life is Living. The meaning of the Universe is Existence. It really matters little how long or short a human life is, 12 seconds or 120 years. We all live the same amount of time, because we all live in NOW. Not Back Then or Up There, but Right Now. Now is the point of contact we have with Eternity and every Now is Eternal, and preserved inviolate in Eternity. If THAT has no meaning, I suggest one’s nerves are severed from reality.
Lastly we come to manners, which lubricate the mechanism of society. Sadly eroded by the Com Box Warriors on the Internet, political animals, “journalists”, and unrebuked punks laving profanity in the Malls of America, simple civility and gracious behavior has so far fled the modern parlor most children have never known it.
It is possible, although there may be others. FaceBook is the most nefarious and pernicious monstrosity concocted by humankind. Ostensibly for the digital meeting of friends, it seems it has degenerated into squabbling tribes of strangers, each of whom has 1453 “friends”, and each of whom wants to post something “provocative” and “edgy”. The sad sight of 60 and 70 year old Boomers thinking they are still the vanguard of society is pathetic at best, and irritating as usually the case. Everyone seems compelled to make a statement about their theological, political, social, economic, and cultural weirdness. Which is offensive to everyone else.
(Speaking of “offensiveness”, we seem to be in the middle of another wave of national insanity, wherein the delicate little flowers, the snowflakes of society, want to be insulated against hearing or seeing anything they do not want to hear or see. This is an ailment common to Left Moralizers and Right Ground-standers. They say whosoever “offends” them is an unhuman monster who ought be purged from the world. Hello? Shades of the religious mania of Old New England, the political correctness of Red China, the tetchiness of certain Islamic adherents. All of whom felt that to “offend” was a capital offence.)
It is good manners to keep your hands in your own pockets, and not to use them to pick one’s nose in public. It is good manners to listen politely to someone whose stark raving lunacy is clear, and to walk quietly away without calling this to their attention. It is good manners to respect your neighbor’s spouse, property, and beliefs. It is good manners to… but, perhaps we have gone so far into the dirt, no one really comprehends good manners.
Or any other sort?