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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Death of Manners

The first hint that any society is in decay is a decline in manners and courtesy. Witness the upsurge of the "me generation" of the 1990's (and to some extent the 1980's), which shows no signs of abating, and is, in fact, increasing at an exponential rate. The folks who back then were so into "looking out for number one" are now raising (or have raised) children, and passing on those same selfish attitudes.

Folks do not seem to realize that selfishness and greed are connected to more than just their own private lives. Oh, but I forgot...they don't care about anyone else or the connections...and that is the whole problem.

It begins with small slips of decorum, such as neglecting to thank someone for holding a door open, or not writing a thank-you note to someone for a gift. Over time, these small lapses grow into larger and more glaring errors of etiquette, such as a younger person refusing to give their bus seat to an elderly person, or deliberately allowing a door to swing shut in someone's face.

An invitation to an event, any event, normally has the letters "RSVP" at the bottom. Everyone knows what this means. It means the courtesy of a reply is requested, and polite persons will reply. All it takes is a short phone call, or even an e-mail, "I'm sorry, I have a prior appointment, and won't be able to attend." Or, "Thank you very much for inviting me. I'd be delighted to come and share your celebration."

It's very simple, very quick, to do, and it is very rude to ignore an RSVP. It is even more rude to reply that you will come, and then not show up, and with no notification or apology. It is the rudest behavior of all to offer a "maybe, if no better offers come up in the meantime," reply, or to call at the last minute and tell the host that you will not come after all because so-and-so invited you to something else more recently.

This behavior is insulting to the hosts, and is like a slap in the face. Everyone today is so focused on "me first and foremost" that they have completely forgotten how to imagine themselves in the other person's place, and how that behavior would make them feel. (Remember the old Golden Rule? "Treat others as you would like to be treated"? It is as valid today as it ever was.)

After all, the host/hostess has a lot of planning to do--they need to know how many people to plan for. What if they bought all the food for the party, and no one bothered to show up, and no one had replied to the invitation? The hosts have spent all that money for nothing, because they did not know that their party was perhaps at a bad time, so they could cancel the event instead. Now they are stuck with food "for an army," and much in the way of party fare does not keep well. What a waste!

Next it is the selfish person who zips around the corner and into that parking space that they perfectly well have seen you sitting and waiting for, with your turn signal on. Or the road hog: we've all seen the type--thinks it is perfectly acceptable to block traffic while he lets off a passenger or carries on a conversation with the guy in the car going the other way. Then there's the guy in a hurry weaving in and out of traffic, driving using his horn to yell, "get out of my way! I'm more important than you are!" Very rude behaviors all.

Manners are the very glue that holds society together, as well as the lubricant that keeps it running smoothly. When manners go into decline, all sorts of bad things happen. It follows that not caring about those in one's immediate circle leads to devaluing everyone else as well. This is the origin of greed.

Me first, me in the middle, and me last, and me for me and to blazes with everyone else. It is from this mindset that jobs are lost to offshore "outsourcing," because the CEO of the corporation is greedy, cares only for his own bottom line and his own wealth, and gives not a hoot for the well being of either his workers or that of his community. It is all about short-term gain, and has no long range benefit. This is the mindset that has put the country into its current economic state.

On the other side of the same coin are the folks with the same mindset as the CEO, but who are in a much different place economically speaking. They do not have either the education or the drive to make something of themselves, so they waste their lives away pimping, dealing drugs, shooting each other in gang wars, and committing crimes against law-abiding citizens.

The only difference between these two groups lies in technicalities of the law. The CEO is technically within legal rights (even though his actions are unethical in the extreme) to destroy someone's livelihood and ability to earn a living. The gang member is breaking laws concerning assorted drugs and how he obtains and distributes them, and is also flouting laws about use of guns. As he shoots his victim to gain a few bucks from that person's wallet, he has also destroyed someone's ability to earn a living. If that person is killed in the process, the gang member has destroyed more than just a livelihood for the survivors--he has destroyed a family, destroyed their ability to trust, and fostered a good reason for predjudice.

These differences are only about which side of the law a person decides to follow: the end result of both courses of action is the same. The community is destroyed, blighted, becomes run down, and illegal activity blossoms because of loss of hope. Even those who were once law-abiding citizens may turn to stealing in an effort to keep their family fed and clothed.

It is sad that we have come to this place. Why not be the one to put a stop to this downhill slide? One person can make a difference--lead by example--and teach children that it is not 'ok' to bully, lie, cheat, steal or be rude.

Get a grip on yourself, America! Wake up from this selfish trap...for a trap it surely is, and as we are seeing daily in the news, those who pursue these ways of living eventually end up getting caught, paying dearly, and loosing everything they had. Ah, but the damage they have done is not so easily put to rights. The damage caused by the selfish generation will be with us for a long time to come. It did not happen overnight, and it will not be cured overnight. But cure it we must, and the time to start the process of change is right this very instant!

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