Manners seem to be getting worse.
As just one example of this unhappy state of affairs one might reference the past week’s local papers that have been filled with accounts of rowdy passengers waiting at the downtown bus stop and riding some routes. It has apparently become something of a serious problem.
Maybe it’s our narcissistic age, in which the concept other appears to have gone the way of the missing thank you and inexpensive please.
But there are darker aspects to this decline in comity than mere verbal rudeness. Over the years we have all read about alarming increases in assaults triggered by the strains and inconveniences of driving, so-called road-rage. This behavior is much more than simple impoliteness, but the rank weeds of physical aggression perhaps grow more luxuriantly precisely on those fields where the blooms of polite comportment have not been cultivated with sufficient nurture.
The child who has never been taught to say thank you or please, to wait her turn and recognize that she is not the leading star in God’s production, must in time develop a warped understanding of her own relationship to other human beings. Encouraged by mentally and ethically lazy parents, she comes to confuse what is genuinely her specialness with what is surely not her importance in the larger scheme of human affairs. A child is unique to herself, her parents, and her friends; she is no better and no more privileged in any sense than any other child or human being anywhere in the world. The child who is not made to appreciate this critical distinction grows up to be the adult who believes that other human beings exist primarily as disposable conveniences for her. When, therefore, she is frustrated of any desire or thwarted in any endeavor, her view of the world’s workings makes it unassailably logical that she should lash out.
Some public forms of politeness like chewing gum with open mouth and smacking lips in a restaurant are merely disgusting; more gross manifestations like picking one’s nose or clipping nails in public are merely repulsive; other activities like coughing straight at another person or throwing used kleenex on the sidewalk are merely unsanitary. These can be tolerated, if just barely.
But the adult’s raging me-ism powered by the leverage of fists, knives, or guns is the ultimate, deadly fruit borne of a child’s limitless indulgence by parents afraid of exercising true responsibility for their feared offspring.
If life is to be approximately civilized for all, individual mechanisms of interior control and restraint must be established, trained, and put to daily use.
There simply is no other way.