Friday, June 20, 2014

Understanding Etiquette's History

A few thoughts on etiquette from various authors ...

"Freeze or get stabbed, mate. It's your choice."
"Politeness is a signal of readiness to meet someone half-way; the question of whether politeness makes society cohere, or keeps other people safely at arms length, is actually a false opposition. Politeness does both, and that is why it's so frightening to contemplate losing it. Suddenly, the world seems both alien and threatening and all because someone's mother never taught him to say, 'Excuse me' or 'Please.' There is an old German fable about porcupines who need to huddle together for warmth, but are in danger of hurting each other with their spines. When they find the optimum distance to share each other's warmth without putting each other's eyes out, their state of contrived cooperation is called good manners. Well, those old German fableists certainly knew a thing or two. When you acknowledge other people politely, the signal goes out, 'I'm here. You're there. I'm staying here. You're staying there. Aren't we both glad we sorted that out?' When people don't acknowledge each other politely, the lesson from the porcupine fable is unmistakeable. 'Freeze or get stabbed, mate. It's your choice.'" From Lynne Truss', 2005's Talk to the Hand
Distancing of oneself from others was its consummate expression?
"To enact their existence, to demonstrate their prestige, to distance themselves from lower-ranking people and have this distance recognized by the higher-ranking -- all this was purpose enough in itself. But in etiquette this distancing of oneself from others as an end in itself  finds its consummate expression." From Norbert Elias, 1983 "The Court Society"
Etiquette in these cases is merely current usage -- doing things in a way that is generally accepted today.
"What is Etiquette? It is often and glibly said that etiquette is merely a matter of innate consideration and kindness. This is, to my mind, a misleading oversimplification. One part of etiquette -- manners -- could certainly be so defined.

Manners, however, are just one part of etiquette. Etiquette is also form -- the specific and rigid form established by tradition for answering a wedding invitation, for instance, for introducing a church official, or for having your name engraved on a visiting card. These are all matters of form, and your innate consideration and kindness won't give you the answer to a single one of your questions about them.

Nor are manners and form all there is to etiquette. As you will see, a great deal of the information in this book does not come under the heading of either form or manners. How to act in a business office, how to serve a buffet meal, and how to get along with your baby sitter are not determined by manners alone, and have certainly not solidified into rigid manners of form. Etiquette in these cases is merely current usage -- doing things in a way that is generally accepted today.

This book, therefore, covers etiquette in its most complete sense -- in the sense of manners (our relations with other people), of form (our respect for convention), and of usage (our knowledge of how things are done today).  I hope that this book, either as a reference book for answering a specific question, or as a description of social customs of contemporary Americans, will help you fit comfortably, smoothly, and with confidence into any group of people you will find yourself among, in any part of America." From Frances Benton's 1956, "Etiquette - The Complete Modern Guide for Day-to-Day Living the Correct Way"

A knight receiving accolades for his success ~ "The original etiquette manuals of Western civilization were in fact success manuals." 
"'It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built upon a renunciation of instinct,' Sigmund Freud said.
There’s always a tension between how much we should follow our instincts and how much we should yield to social conventions. But at times like ours, the tendency is to tilt too far toward our instincts, since the conventions are changing fast and there’s no consensus about them anyway. There’s a risk in that. You don’t know whom you might be offending or how you might be sabotaging your own success.
The original etiquette manuals of Western civilization were in fact success manuals. As author Steven Pinker notes, they taught knights and nobles how to conduct themselves in the court of the king—which is where we get the concepts of 'courtly' and 'courtesy.'" Rob Asghar, 2014, Forbes.com Contributor