Updated 12/26: Why etiquette matters
December 26, 2008
By Kathleen Thometz
I recently read nearly all of Emily Post's Etiquette (17th edition) for a school project. This recent interest in proper behavior started when I began reading Emily Post's biography by Laura Claridge coupled with the fact that I began commuting by train to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago last January. I was appalled by cell phone usage on the train. One person yakking on his or her cell phone on a quiet train car can ruin the ride for other commuters. I've had to listen to one-sided conversations about everything from a cell phone offender's brilliant child, to professions of undying love, business deals, medical procedures and horrible coworkers.
I was recently in the check-out line in Costco when I was subject to the cell phone conversation of the woman behind me. She was gabbing about her upcoming tummy tuck and breast expansion surgery. She proceeded to tell her friend that she was OK with people knowing about the new bosom but not the tummy tuck. I turned to her and mouthed the words, "I know about it." She rolled her eyes and looked away. Little did she know that I would be writing about her in the local paper!
My first encounter with Emily Post was 17 years ago when I received her book as a gift after becoming engaged. It has become our bible for social survival! My husband and I have used it to solve disagreements, plan parties and direct us in how to deal with sticky situations. We had cousin who added extra guests on the reply card for our wedding. The book instructed us to write a note informing him that just he and his wife were invited. Problem solved.
I learned a lot from the book, mainly that I am often in breech of the gentle rules of etiquette. I never put my shopping cart away. I spit in the street when I go running and I have been known to use foul language in public. These last two offenses are in Ms. Post's top 10 rudest behaviors! I also share way too much information about myself -- things better left said to my doctor or a mental health professional. I have taken steps to rectify my worst breeches of etiquette but have yet to take a total inventory. Aside from learning what is considered gracious behavior in polite society, the most powerful thing that struck me in the book was the following quote:
"Grounded as it is in timeless principles, etiquette enables us to face whatever the future may bring with strength of character and integrity. This ever-adaptive code of behavior also allows us to be flexible enough to respect those whose beliefs and traditions differ from our own. Civility and courtesy (in essence, the outward expressions of human decency) are the proverbial glue that holds society together -- qualities that are more important than ever in today's complex and changing world." (Page 6, Emily Post's Etiquette, 17th edition)
So, for 2009, I plan to finish taking inventory, clean up my act and become the Elmer's in my little slice of the world!
-- Kathleen Thometz of Western Springs is a contributing columnist for The Doings.
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