Saturday, October 3, 2015

Etiquette and the Porcupine

"Freeze or get stabbed, mate. It's your choice." Meeting someone half-way helps make society cohere.
"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 fabulists 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

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber is the Site Moderator for Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia