“Manners are just for old people,” I recently heard a teenage girl say. Her mother shot back at her quickly in a serious tone, “They absolutely are not!” I observed this trend, stereotype, call it what you will, long before I heard this short conversation; but since then, I have been compelled to look upon the teens and twenty-somethings of the new millennium critically. This girl, to my eye, is a far cry from being considered anything remotely close to rude, but does the lack of outward rudeness constitute politeness today?
In a world where people regularly exchange rude looks and vulgar shouts to one another on the road, where the grocery store clerk doesn’t even say a word to you other than reading back the total on your bill—let alone make eye-contact, where predatory credit card companies soak up what little cash people have in the form of inflated interest rates, hidden fees, and past-due payments, I ask myself if any measurable amount of chivalry or, more simply, common civility is still regularly practiced by people at large.
Now when I say chivalry, I do not necessarily mean to bring about images of romanticized knights in shining armor coming to the aid of the fair maiden, or of Prince Charming lying down his coat in a puddle of mud so that his Cinderella can walk across with unscathed Uggs. In fact, the very notion that men should have to put themselves out in such a way for women could be viewed by either sex as gender stereotyping, which is a whole other issue.
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
My concern is more about the little things—things that you thank someone for that you do not have to say “thank you” for, such as when a door is held open for you. Why is it so damn difficult to grant someone the pleasure of a few seconds’ eye-contact, a smile, and a sincere “thanks”?
I always make it a point to ask everyone, whom I engage with in conversation, how they’re doing. One of my absolute favorites is when they say “fine” or “good” and nothing more. Again, is it really that difficult to say, “fine, thanks for asking” or, better yet, “fine, how are you?” I certainly don’t expect to hear a synopsis of how the person’s entire day or week has gone, but the spoken language and body language of politeness go a long way toward making everyone’s day—both yours and others’—simply…better. Showing concern and care for your fellow man is part of the human condition. Don’t fail at the human condition. Perhaps Mark Twain said it best: “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”