The etiquette gap: From Newt and Mitt to Facebook and texting
Newt Gingrich calling Mitt Romney a liar, boorish friends texting at dinner, bad Facebook manners: The nation's etiquette gap – from a shove to a shooting – can breed more incivility.
No one should do anything that can either annoy or offend the sensibilities of others.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The Civility Gap
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For all her family's generations of well-mannered breeding, Lizzie Post is not immune to the awkward moment. She was out to dinner not long ago with friends, and as the hour grew late, the wine flowed, and so did the foul language coming from her group. A man from another table came over and asked that they tone things down because he had children with him.
"I was really embarrassed," winces Ms. Post, great-great-granddaughter of the legendary etiquette giant Emily Post.
But not so for one of her table mates. He said that it was the father who was out of line, that people curse, and that if the man wanted to take his children out in public, they'd better get used to it.
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Such is the state of American civility in 2012, as individuals – increasingly, it seems – defy convention and claim the right to define their own behavior. Some are just doing what they see being done around them – in the ubiquitous, often-weird entertainment industry; in the frequently immature and sometimes violent world of sports; in the tempting anonymity of the Internet, where each aberration-gone-viral seems to become the new norm.
This year, so far, Americans have seen the smack-down world of politics and cable TV honing its affinity for the juvenile while continuing to embarrass the governed (Newt Gingrich calling Mitt Romney a liar; a presidential primary debate moderator launching his questions with one about Mr. Gingrich's marital affairs). They've seen the middle finger flipped during Super Bowl half time, and they've heard expletive-punctuated poor sportsmanship by a losing player's wife. They've seen Adele gnaw chewing gum at the Grammy Awards.
Good manners are keepers of the peace, say experts, who suggest that as indicators of social intelligence they may be better predictors of success in life than IQ.
Manners empower people to demonstrate respect for others, to avoid inflicting the unintentional insult, to defuse the kind of confusion that leads to conflict and violence. The mannerly know how to make good apologies when they mess up, as they inevitably will. And – as with the well-placed snub – they know how to deviate from convention as a means of voicing their concerns.
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