Sunday, November 20, 2005

Case of the Disappearing Manners

George Will, the most excellent columnist, had an interesting op-ed piece in our Orange County newspaper today. It was about manners and virtue. In the article Mr. Will talked about people doing all sorts of rude things in public, and allowing one's children to misbehave as well, as though such actions were a right. And they are a right in the sense that these actions are not formally defined as illegal.

But we live larger than that. There are lots of things we don't do, not because they are illegal, but as my mother told me some 65 years ago, "People just don't want to live in a world like that." Today, Will referred to this as the "obedience to the unenforceable."

In a secularist world we tend to rely on legalism, and we sue frequently. Legalism got a bad name some 2,000 years ago and for some, it still has that bad name. For the rest of us, who are ignorant of the past, legalism is the only way; it is our entitlement.

Remember the time when nearly everyone smoked? Well, they didn't. Not everyone smoked, although it seems like they did. Many of those who did, have quit. But those who smelled up your house, who blew smoke in your face and who spat little specks of tobacco on your walls and floor are still with us. They no longer use tobacco in their rudeness. Their personal disregard for others is just taking another form. Loud telephone conversations in public places, obnoxious children and making obscene gestures from automobiles are just other forms of blowing smoke in your face and spitting on your floor. But now those who do it feel virtuous because they no longer use tobacco. Good manners are still lacking, and it is too bad.

There is a certain amount of virtue in good manners, especially if one practices manners out of respect and gratitude. No one ever blew smoke in my face out of gratitude. Gratitude has been rightly called the mother of virtues. As a population, especially as a secularist society, we seem to have little of it.

Good manners are the oil that lubricates the ways of society. No wonder that even democratic societies creak and groan a bit.

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