May 15, 2024

Rector’s eNews 15 – 15 May 2024

/ Uncategorized

Perhaps you might have had a grandfather, as I did, who spoke frequently about the importance of manners. The slightly old-fashioned statement, “Manners maketh Man” nevertheless bears a truth which is that society is greatly enhanced by people who treat others with consideration and are aware of them and their needs in the ordinary cut and thrust of daily living.

In my view, allowing an adult to go through the door first or standing up when an adult comes into the room should be automatic reflexes in men and boys which are the result of training from an early age. But, surprisingly, this cannot be taken for granted even in young boys who come to be interviewed for Michaelhouse. Manners are what AC Grayling in his chapter on Manners in The Heart of Things – Applying Philosophy to the 21st Century refers to as the minor transactions of ordinary life and he goes on to say that “manners are central to true morality; they are the lubricant of social relations; the sweetener of personal intercourse and the softener of conflict.” In my view, the critical period for learning manners is in a child’s life up to the age of about 16. Thereafter manners are difficult to learn as they are not part of your inherent makeup. So parents and teachers have a crucial role to play in the embodiment of a skill which, if not acquired by then, will never be part of a person. I have written before on this subject, but I acknowledge, too, that boys live in a confusing world where some women do not, for example, accept their standing back to let them through a door first; they consider this condescending and dismissive of their position as equals. Boys in some other countries find it difficult to know how to respond in such circumstances because of the vitriol they may attract from a sector of female society and the contrast between those boys and the average South African boy can be marked in this area. My view is that young people in any society should continue to make others feel comfortable and at ease and that being polite and respectful wins more friends than enemies.

AC Grayling goes on to discuss the difference between manners and etiquette in a way I find quite amusing. He says etiquette refers to lesser matters such as what cutlery to use at dinner and he draws the distinction between the two referring to the difference between table manners currently employed in society and a Shakespearean scene as follows: “Etiquette had its origin in bringing pleasantness to the necessities of common living. Reformers of behaviour at table, for example, managed to bring about the relative peace and democracy of today’s dinner hour from what was once a ravening, every-man-for-himself event where meat was torn from carcasses by hand, bones were tossed to the floor, spitting and various unmentionable activities took place right there at the board as eating and drinking proceeded – a species of gustatory mayhem, premised on imperatives of quantity and haste. And what was characteristic of the table was even more so of the street, once as much a public lavatory as a path between destinations.”

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