By: Maria Ecrivain / Contributing AOJ journalist
Has Etiquette gone the way of the land line in the US? The answer depends a lot on your definition or interpretation of etiquette. Many confuse etiquette with current perception of political correctness and the two are far from the same.
Many of us can recall either our parents or grandparents instructing us on the proper way to behave in a certain situation or what were acceptable topics to discuss at a function. (For example, not to ask Aunt A about jail or to comment about Uncle M’s new girlfriend) We were most likely told not to ask because this might upset or hurt someone’s feelings. Where does this leave the societal norms of today in regards to etiquette.
Etiquette has to do with empathy and behaving in an acceptable manner depending on the circumstances one finds oneself. For example, using a quiet voice in the library, that’s proper etiquette. Etiquette generally requires simply applying common sense behaviors in a situation. How is this different from political correctness? Political correctness is not about avoiding a scene or applying common sense to a situation, it’s about applying a Political ideologue designed to dictate response or behaviors in situations regardless of the possible negative impact to those around. Political correctness as defined by Merriam-Webster is conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated. If this was how political correctness was applied perhaps it would not have such a profound current impact on society. Political correctness has morphed into something beyond sensibilities. Any person espousing a view contrary to what a listener wants to hear is often attacked not on the issue of the material spoken but many times on a personal attack. If we as a society embraced more etiquette in our interactions it would lead to more fruitful conversations
How can we separate politics from etiquette? It will take some work as many people have adopted the mentality that if it’s for a cause then anything goes and that is contrary to etiquette. Society needs to start pointing out the difference and holding people accountable. For example, over the past year comments made by political figures have shown a clear passing of a boundary of etiquette that was previously not crossed. When Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin quoted from Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” It caused an uproar as people were outraged by this perceived inception to violence. Democrat Representative from California Maxine Waters comment was made several times to the American public, at a rally in Los Angeles, and in a few TV interviews: “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,”. This was received with wide applause by some and rebukes by others. Even more recently Hilary Clinton while being interviewed on CNN said the following: “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, for what you care about,”. Regardless of one’s thoughts of any of the comments mentioned by current political figures they clearly reflect the demise of culture and greater need for some etiquette to be restored to our democracy. Perceived political correctness exasperated the situation where etiquette perhaps could have provided an opportunity for discourse in a civil manner because it requires that everyone behave in a civil manner. These political figures missed an opportunity for real dialogue, reinforcing the clear need for a return to basic civility by applying simple etiquette.
Our political leaders should be encouraging people to engage in civil conversations not motivate people to behave poorly. There are many Americans that were brought up to behave with respect toward their fellow man as a person. This does not mean we all have to agree on everything. If we all applied basic etiquette to our interactions much more could be accomplished for the betterment of the country which is a goal we as Americans should all be proud to work for. Leaders should lead and they should lead with the etiquette and grace that their election to office dignifies.