Have you ever smoked in the presence of a woman, or if you are a woman, have you ever smoked? Have you ever eaten a meal without saying grace? Did you ever not bring your own utensils when you were invited to a meal? Did you ever do the “ok” sign with your hand?
Then, my dear sir/madam, you are a barbarian who is not fit to be considered “civilized.” Of course I am joking; most of those traditions are seriously outdated or may not even fit your respective culture. But at one point or another if you had not followed these rules of etiquette then you’d be considered scum, and you wouldn’t have been worthy of sitting at an upper class’ family table, or be near it for that matter.
Isn’t it funny that to most of us such traditions seem silly yet to those who created them they were very important? Manners, like any other custom, change with time. This is because those in power change and thus there are different ways to please them. For example, the last button of a waistcoat isn’t normally buttoned because King Edward VII’s waistline was too huge for him to button it. After people saw him doing that, they started imitating him and thus this gave birth to this insane fashion trend
So, in other words, manners are nothing more and nothing less than institutionalised ass-kissing. Ironically the ass kissing gesture remains far longer than the person whom it was aimed. This leads to the more common scenario where people continue doing the gesture for no real reason but that it’s considered savagery not to do it.
This vicious cycle is also aided by peer pressure. Most people do not like the thought of being the outlier, so they conform to whatever is the norm, regardless of whether or not it makes any sense. This is the exact reason why you can sometimes find a bill with a very large value in the tip jar. Since this coerces some people to give larger tips because they feel guilty.
Sadly, most of our current society functions on guilt. Just think a bit about how religion, advertising, manners, or even charities work. This little system is unlikely to change any time soon since it’s been used for many, many centuries and it has been so ingrained into our culture that people think it is human nature to feel guilty.
Nevertheless, if we are to evolve as a society, we have to eliminate this needless sense of guilt. To break this seemingly endless cycle, one must acknowledge that the prime mechanism for this guilt is self interest. One does not refrain from doing something just because it’s the right thing to do, but because we have weighed the odds and decided it’s better for our wellbeing if we follow the rule.
Guilt is motivated by self interest, which is the underlying motivation for most of our actions (if not all). Selfless acts of kindness do not really exist. Granted, there are people who do something with no apparent reward, but thinking that they do not receive anything in exchange for something they did is a fallacy. Simply not having a physical payment does not mean that it isn’t motivated by self interest. Sometimes the action itself is its reward, or the feeling this gives the person.
When we understand this, we can shape society in such a way that we do not follow senseless rules. Now, from my writing it may seem I’m completely against any such thing as manners or traditions. In a sense, yes it’s true I do not think that people should be coerced into doing things which make absolutely no sense simply to save face value. However, such things as common decency should not be completely thrown away like chewing food with one’s mouth closed or sneezing with one’s hand in front of them.
Rules, in any sense or form, should facilitate living with others, not complicate a situation even more. As Plato put it “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” If we are to live in a better world we always have to ask the “why?” until we get a good answer and until then we should ignore any mandate which doesn’t answer that simple question.
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