Sunday, July 12, 2015

Etiquette is One's Duty

There are a great many who feel that good manners are effeminate. They have a feeling that rude bluntness is a great deal more manly than good manners. It is undoubtedly a great deal more beastly. But when men are crowded in communities, the art of living together is no small art.
 
Good Manners A Duty


Men often speak of good manners as an accomplishment. I speak of them as a duty. What, then, are good manners? Such manners as the usages of society have recognized as being agreeable to men. Such manners as take away rudeness, and remit to the brute creation all coarseness. 


There are a great many who feel that good manners are effeminate. They have a feeling that rude bluntness is a great deal more manly than good manners. It is undoubtedly a great deal more beastly. But when men are crowded in communities, the art of living together is no small art.


How to diminish friction; how to promote ease of intercourse; how to make every part of a man's life contribute to the welfare and satisfaction of those around him; how to keep down offensive pride; how to banish the raspings of selfishness from the intercourse of men; how to move among men inspired by various and conflictive motives, and yet not have collisions— this is the function of good manners. It is not effeminate to be refined. And in this land no man should plead inability.
It is not effeminate to be refined. And in this land no man should plead inability.
There may be a peasantry in other countries, there may be a class in foreign lands who have no opportunities; there may be those whose toil is so continuous, whose opportunities for knowing what constitutes good manners are so few, and whose ignorance is so gross that they are excusable; but this is not the case with any within reach of my voice. That a man is a mechanic, is no reason why he should not be a gentleman. I affirm for every American citizen the right to be not simply a man, but a good mannered man.


I have seen men at the anvil who were as perfect gentlemen as men of books or men of society. I know no reason why a man who tans hides should not be a gentleman. I know no reason why a man who digs in the soil, a man who works in metals and woods, a man who builds, should not be a perfect gentleman. There is nothing in mechanical occupations which is incompatible with the highest courtesy. 
Every man is bound to observe the laws of politeness. It is the expression of good-will and kindness.
Not only is the violation of good manners inexcusable on ordinary grounds, but it is sinful. When, therefore, parents and guardians and teachers would inspire the young with a desire for the manners of a good society. It is not to be thought that they are accomplishments which may be accepted or rejected. Every man is bound to observe the laws of politeness. It is the expression of good-will and kindness. It promotes both beauty in the man who possesses it, and happiness in those who are about him. It is religious duty, and should be part of religious training.


There is a great deal of contempt expressed for what is called etiquette in society. Now and then there are elements of etiquette which perhaps might well be ridiculed ; but in the man there is a just reason for all those customs which come under the head of etiquette. There is a reason which has regard to the facility of intercourse. There is a reason in the avoidance of offense. There is a reason in comfort and happiness. And no man can afford to violate these unwritten customs of etiquette who wishes to act as a Christian gentleman. I may speak, also, of a tendency which is bred by our institutions —the want of veneration.


There are various ways in which this want of veneration shows itself. We often hear that there is not the same respect shown for the aged that there used to be. We know that there is very little respect shown for magistrates and men in authority. This is partly due, I think, to the institutions under which we live. One of the unfortunate effects derived from the early stages of democratic training is the sense of personal sovereignty; the feeling that we stand on as high ground as anybody else. Under monarchial institutions men are taught to revere the great and glorious in government. The feeling of reverence does not prevail to any great extent among us. I discern a great lack in this respect.       
This courtesy, which carries with it respect; this testimony of veneration to the aged; this yielding oneself in a thousand little society rites for the sake of making others happy— Oh! What brightness it gives to life!
Children, nowadays, are brought up to be pert, to be saucy, to be almost without restraint. They are brought up to have very little regard either for their parents or their superiors. And, although there are a great many Christian households whose children are rightly bred in this regard, it seems to me there has been a decay of that instruction which used to prevail, the tendency of which was to make children modest and respectful. We bring up our children to be old and smart and impertinent. This courtesy, which carries with it respect; this testimony of veneration to the aged; this yielding oneself in a thousand little society rites for the sake of making others happy— Oh! What brightness it gives to life! What beauty, what adornment it gives to Christian character!


There are many other points that I might speak of. The effect of punctuality and order; the relations which men sustain toward each other's convenience and necessities—these and a hundred other branches of this subject I might discourse upon, but it is not necessary that I should go into them. I have given such examples as I have merely as specimens, for the purpose of calling your attention to the minuteness and carefulness with which the Scripture inculcates these things. It enjoins not merely the right spirit, but the right spirit manifested in the most beautiful way.—Phillip A. Bell, in "The Elevator" 1873




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