Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Little Civility, Please

Question: When a man and a woman approach a revolving door at the same time, who should go through the door first?

Question: When someone gives you a gift, what should you do in response?

Question: Do good manners even matter anymore?

I think it’s time to pull out my Miss Manners persona because, frankly, I think some people need a refresher course.

And I’m not talking about my kids.

Now, our girls might not be able to tell you which fork to use first at a formal dinner party (but then again, they just might), but they can certainly tell you what kind of behavior is appropriate in public. Or not.

In just the past week I have noticed so many forms of bad behavior in public that I really think some lessons are in order. Maybe instead of talking about Healthcare all the time, we could start a new public debate on appropriate behavior.

I first noticed this growing problem last week when Michael Jordan was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. Now, listen up, kids. When you’re being given an honor—most likely the highest honor of your life—you need to put on an air of humility, even if you have to fake it. And you need to receive your honor with grace. This is not the time to go bashing your former boss.

Michael, didn’t your mother ever tell you that if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all?

And then last weekend, Serena Williams totally lost her cool during a match in the U.S. Open. Serena, Serena, Serena. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth? Really now. Tennis used to be the sport of the civil, the mannerly. You’ve suddenly made it into the sport of the classless and disrespectful.

You know who I’m going to pick on next, right? Joe Wilson, the congressman from South Carolina, during President Obama’s speech last week shouted out, “You lie!” in front of the entire Congress. Whether or not you agree with Mr. Wilson’s sentiments, you have to agree that this was not the time nor the place for his feelings to be made known.

I was taught to respect the office of the President, whether or not I agree with him. I was also taught that the American Congress is different from the British Parliament in that we do not yell out to one another or call each other names. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see a little more friendly banter between our Congresspeople, but that’s just not how it’s done here. We try to be civil.

Joe, your shout out to the President was not civil nor respectful.

O.K., last one. (Can you believe all of these happened within the past week?!) Kanye West. Completely dissed Taylor Swift in front of the entire nation. That poor girl didn’t know what happened to her. And neither did Beyonce. Both women were put on the spot, and not in a good way. I assure you, every person at the VMA awards was after publicity, but not the kind of publicity that Kanye West showered on Taylor Swift or Beyonce.

Kanye, embarrassing another person, especially on national television, is never considered polite. I guess Joe Wilson could take a lesson from that one too.

See, here’s the thing. My parents taught me, and it’s what I’m trying to teach my own daughters, that good manners have everything to do with the other person—-making the other guy look or feel good, even if it makes you look or feel bad. When you hurt someone’s reputation or when you make someone uncomfortable or when you put your own reputation ahead of someone else’s, it’s just plain rude.

Good manners puts the other guy first. Always.

One thing all of these people do have in common is this: they all apologized.

After the fact.

And, I gotta say, that’s disappointing too. Because if they had been taught better manners, none of this would have happened and no apologies would have been necessary.


  1. What gets me is the current "I'm sorry if you were offended" type of apology. How about "I was wrong".

  2. Amen, Linda! It's like when our kids put their hands on their hips and say, "I'm sorry" without really meaning it.