Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Good Manners Beget Good Manners

Simple good manners beget good manners. Most of us, though quite unaware of it, are imitative. We react almost instantly to the spirit of the other person and take our cue from his behavior. Thus, when we are pushed in the subway, we push back. When we are yelled at by a motorist, we retaliate. No wonder that at the end of a day nerves are raw and tempers hot. But it is all so needless even in the rush hours of a big city. 

The Simple Act Of Courtesy

Last week a tiny elderly lady from Virginia visiting in New York asked me to help her shop for gifts to take back to her family. After a tour of stores she remarked how courteous the sale spcople were. But I noticed that in this rushed and noisy and often harsh metropolis it was her own courtesy that had induced courtesy in return. When she spoke, softly and graciously, irritability vanished and voices turned gentle. Unconsciously, her manner influenced theirs.

Later in the afternoon, she asked to stop at my local dry cleaners. Here, I was sure, the ill-tempered manager would ruin her illusion that all New Yorkers were polite. She wanted 24-hour service on a dress, a request which would normally send him into a small fury. But again, the little miracle occurred. “Anything for a lady,” he said, and opened the door for us as we left. So do simple good manners beget good manners. Most of us, though quite unaware of it, are imitative. We react almost instantly to the spirit of the other person and take our cue from his behavior. Thus, when we are pushed in the subway, we push back. When we are yelled at by a motorist, we retaliate. No wonder that at the end of a day nerves are raw and tempers hot. But it is all so needless even in the rush hours of a big city. 

Traffic is fully as tangled and hectic as in Chicago or New York, but a calmly agreeable mood prevails throughout the day. Rather than try to beat one another onto a bus, people line up in orderly fashion awaiting their turn and heaven help the rude oaf who tries to cheat. He is rarely rebuked, but the concerted chill of the British glance would freeze an Eskimo.

As a woman bus conductor explained to me when I marveled at how smoothly this system worked: "We don't queue up just for buses, we do it at the greengrocers or any place that's busy." I said, "You’ve used courtesy to organize, to streamline. And it's such a gracious system.” “Well,” she said practically, "I don't know how gracious it is, but it sure saves everybody time.” I am often surprised how few people realize that simple acts of courtesy actually save time by bringing order out of confusion. – Elizabeth Byrd for Lenten Guideposts, 1965

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