What the heck happened to good manners? Maybe it was just an illusion I subscribed to for a little while, and there actually never were any. Maybe manners are reserved for a certain social demographic or age bracket? Maybe manners only come out at times when there is a perceived benefit involved?
I don’t know. But I do know that simple acts like saying the word “hello” in response to someone else’s “hello”, or a “no problem” in reply to someone’s “oops, sorry!”, is a pretty easy way to display good manners. I also know that life is too short for anything less than kindness. But is life also too short to be bothered by the people who just don’t “get it”?
It’s often the under 25s who are the culprits, although I’ve seen plenty of people over 50 behave this way. Huffing and puffing when you lightly bump into them at the supermarket as though they are just so hard done by. Age doesn’t necessarily mean much – people grow up based on how they process their experiences.
Also, I do struggle to point the finger solely at younger people, because one of my pet peeves is how they often cop a bad rap. Nothing bothers me more than an adult saying to a teenager, “What problems could you possibly have?” or “Listen up, buddy, it’s only going to get worse.” Yuck! That’s not necessarily true at all.
Typically, these words are uttered by bitter folk who have nothing better to do than to spread their unhappiness to others. And that’s just not an ethos I want to be a part of. I can’t assume to know what’s happening in someone else’s life.
But what I will say is this: manners matter! Sometimes saying “hello” and being met with silence and a cold stare is downright hurtful – it doesn’t matter how old or young you are, rudeness feels a little less crappy as you get older, but it still doesn’t feel good!
It reminds me of a quote by Neil Gaiman in his book The Ocean at the End of the Lane, where little Lettie Hempstock, who has strange, God-like qualities, says: The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.’ Being ignored continues to sting a bit, because Lettie is right – we’re all just kids on the inside.
So, what is the reason behind the bad manners?
We could blame social media, the fact that everyone texts or inboxes everyone – if the phone rings a lot of people nowadays will look at their phones with a combination of panic and disgust. “Don’t ring me, text me!” Many of us avoid the genuine one-on-one conversations like the plague.
That said, even with the increased use of social media, most of us still know how to follow normal social cues like saying “hello” or “excuse me” when the situation really calls for it. It’s not that people don’t know what they’re supposed to do, I think it’s just that they often couldn’t be bothered.
The reason behind it is not something we normally like to talk about, but it’s pretty basic. I think they’ve forgotten about the reality of death, or to put it more nicely – the fleetingness of life. By the time you get to my age (mid to late 30s – OK, let’s go with mid), most of us have lost a few school mates to suicide, car accidents, or even cancer. Many have also lost most, if not all, of their grandparents, perhaps also a parent or two. Worse still, some have even lost a child.
Through all these things we start to see what really matters.
You can take it however you want, but I take it as nothing matters more than kindness. Since I can’t be guaranteed who is going to be here tomorrow, or whether I am, the one thing I can do is try to be kind.
The problem is, you can’t make people be kind back to you. You shake them and say, “Hey, I’m a person, too. Don’t be a jerk”. People either “get it” or they don’t. I can’t make anyone have good manners. For me, I just do my best to develop a thicker skin, try to avoid those sorts of people when I can (and you never can completely), and just get on with it.
Regardless of whether we get a “hello”, “excuse me” from certain people, we are all worthy of one.