All I really had time for as "free time" yesterday was to read more of the book I was talking about earlier on manners. It's a fascinating read - essentially a long essay with a number of digressions, mainly looking at the history of, and sociological role of, manners.
And in general, Holdforth expresses dismay at the decline in manners but does observe that times change - she gives the example of a young man seeing a woman get on the bus carrying a heavy bag, so he stands to give her his seat. The author says that had the young man been asked, he would have said that that was what he was taught to do, and also the woman looked like it would help her to set down her heavy bag. The woman, however, could have a series of reactions: "Oh my gosh, he thinks I'm OLD." or "Does he think I'm pregnant? The jerk! I know I could stand to go to the gym more but for him to think I'm pregnant...." or "Oh yes, the old patriarchy rears its ugly head again, wanting to put me in my place. You know what? Screw that."
(Whereas I think I would have most likely looked at the young man, smiled and mouthed "thank you" and taken the offered seat. Then again, I'm in my early 40s and if someone that much my junior wants to think I look old and tired, I'm not too upset about it.)
So yeah; manners can be a minefield. (She also, later on in the book, takes on the whole notion of PC - which is one of those things that was instituted with good intentions in many cases ("We don't want people using overtly offensive language") but which has now mutated and metastasized, at least in some places, into a series of "codes" that make people afraid to even voice dissent. (or, in some cases - compliment someone. When I was in graduate school, I had dressed up one day because I was giving a formal presentation in a class. One of my male colleagues remarked, "Wow, you look really nice today!" and then immediately apologized, lest I accuse him of "sexual harassment" (And no, I don't think he was saying that ironically, at least, I didn't detect any irony). I told him that if he ever harassed me sexually, I'd warn him first and tell him to knock it off and wouldn't go to "the authorities" unless he didn't knock it off...
She also noted how some people of her generation (which is either the same as mine, or a half-generation older; she refers at one point to growing up in the 1960s and 70s, which is why I think "half-generation older") think of manners as a stuck-in-the-1950s repressive thing, or, worse, as something people did to put a "nice" face on bigotry - that people used horrible language to refer to black people or Jewish people or any other "different" group. And I would take issue with that opinion. Growing up in the 1970s, I remember being explicitly taught by my parents (after we all witnessed an ugly public incident of it) that using rude language to refer to someone who was Black, Jewish, whatever was distinctly Bad Manners as well as being unkind and low-class. And, by extension, that judging an entire group based on either what other people had told you, or on the actions of one or two, was also bad manners. And I'm quite sure there were many people of earlier eras who were taught the same exact thing.
She also notes that some people take what I would call the "Real World on MTV" approach: that it's more "authentic" to let it all hang out and not worry too much about manners. (The "Real World" famously had the tagline that it filmed what happened when "people stopped being polite and started being real.") The problem, she notes, is that leads to a certain barbarism in how you approach other people - that you may stop caring whom you hurt in the name of your being "authentic." (I'd argue that deciding not to make the effort to use good manners is also a lazy way out). She noted that some people (again, the same people who believe manners are putting a "nice face on bigotry") consider manners to be hypocritical.
And you know what? In my opinion, we're ALL hypocrites in some way or another. I admit to occasionally privately rolling my eyes over people who stop going to church, and then justify that decision as "everyone there was a hypocrite." Oh, and your workplace is so much better? I don't know. I'd rather be a hypocrite (if I am so) by being civil to someone I may not care for all that much, than to live in a constant state of crazy upset drama by going around and shooting my mouth off and not caring who is upset by it. (Now that I think about it: I wonder if some of the exhausting drama some of the people around me seem to be involved in is partly brought on by not trying to be civil to certain people in their lives. If I know someone dislikes me or is contemptuous of me, my way of dealing with them is twofold: (a) Avoid as much as possible and (b) If avoidance is not possible, be super-polite and super-civil so as not to give them any more reason to judge me harshly).
Anyway. She discusses the decline of manners and notes that in at least some jurisdictions there has been an attempt to legislate "kindness" in. And that that does not work. (It's also like legislating common sense. We should not need laws against texting and driving; I would think it would be common sense that LOOKING AWAY FROM THE ROAD TO READ YOUR ELECTRONIC DEVICE IS A REALLY BAD IDEA AND COULD CAUSE A FATAL ACCIDENT. But it isn't, as I've found over the past year when I was nearly involved in two separate accidents where the other driver was (apparently) texting. (Or they were looking at their crotch for some reason, I don't know))
She also notes something that I've suspected: deep in the makeup of many 'radical revolutionaries' is a strict authoritarian dictator wanting to come out - she cites Burke and his concern about what was happening in post-revolutionary France. (You want crazy over-legislation? They remade the freaking CALENDAR to make it more "logical," for goodness sake. And that wasn't all. Holdforth describes it as the first experiment in modern totalinarianism, and I'm inclined to agree, based on histories and novels I've read set in that era.) She also quotes Burke's "Manners are more important than laws" and expands upon that.
I don't agree with everything in the book, of course, but it's making me think about things in a different way, and see connections between things I didn't see as connected before. (I also like her idea of being a mannered, civilized person as somewhat of a *subversive* act in today's society. And the idea that one can "opt in" or "opt out" of things that society endorses or ignores. I like the idea that, for example, I can choose to "opt out" of gossiping, and that I don't have to justify that decision to anyone even though I know it to be the right decision on my part.)