Manners v. behaviour

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Call me old fashioned but I actually like good manners.  I have a sense of pride when my children use ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’.  I have no issue with chivalry such as a man giving up his seat for me or holding open a door.  Equally, I try not to sigh loudly with frustration while waiting my turn in queues and be patient when on the phone to Telstra.  But, is good behaviour equally important as good manners?  Are people getting away with behaving badly under the guise of ‘good manners’?

A friend pointed out to me that telling her boss to “go fuck yourself please” would still get her fired.  Likewise a woman sat down at her lunch table and asked her if she minded if she smoked while in the process of lighting up a cigarette.  When my friend got up to leave (in disgust) the smoker yelled out that she was “only trying to be polite”.

Is good behaviour and being honest more important that just ‘good manners’?  Are having good manners enough?

This week’s edition of ABC TV’s Q&A program got me thinking.  Audience member, Margaret Anne McCormack asked the panellists:

Have Australian men lost their manners? Campbell Newman thinks it is OK to turn his back and chat at a performance and David Farley thought it was acceptable to call Julia Gillard an “unproductive old cow”. Have Australian men lost their manners – or are they trying to get the message across that the little lady should be at home in the kitchen?

An interesting debate ensued, which had entertaining Bob Katter claim that he has tried never to attack people personally throughout his political career.  Katie Noonan rendered him speechless (no mean feat) by asking him:

I believe you said that gay marriage was laughable and should be ridiculed.  Do you – do you think that?

I am still laughing at Katter’s lame and spluttering response.  I bet he wishes she was still in the kitchen.

Overall what interested me most was that the demise of manners and indeed common decency in Australian politics is now reflected more and more in social situations.  It’s commonplace to hear of examples of bad manners from personal attacks on people’s integrity through to bullying and the small things like poor phone manner or a lack of a simple acknowledgement from a shop assistant.  This behaviour is not gender specific.

Then there is new etiquette to learn surrounding social media.  I attended a small birthday party where the guests did not know each other but all knew the birthday girl.  Instead of starting up a conversation the guests chose to avoid eye contact by hiding behind their ‘mobile devices’ – presumably texting, tweeting or updating their status on FB. To me this is just plain old bad manners.  Sure, some people handle social situations better than others but can’t shy people still have good manners?

I write this after a night of battles with Master 3 to eat dinner, pack up his toys and get into (and then out of) the bath.  At every task he refused, growled like a wild animal and generally threw a tantrum.

However, during the tantrums he actually used good manners to demand to do something else.  Yelling “Puhleeese Mama, can I do drawing?” Yelling and screaming is clearly bad behaviour even if using good manners in the process.  Screaming is still screaming.

I have been working to instil good manners in my boys while they are young so that they may become kind, considerate, confident and resilient men.  Maybe, what I should be doing is placing more value on good behaviour?

Or, as a parent is it my responsibility to make sure my boys have a sense of good manners and good behaviour and how to apply both appropriately?

Or, are ‘good’ manners an old fashioned and artificial concept?  Is it ok to have ‘bad’ manners providing you are honest about it?

Do you wish you could lie down and kick and scream to get your own way some days?


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