Etiquettes Crucified

The other day I sent a message on WhatsApp to my friend's son for some urgent enquiry. I noticed two blue lines indicating he had seen the message. I was expecting a reply soon, but there was neither a reply nor a phone call. Afterwards, I sent another message which contained only two question marks. Did he care? No.

Is it true that social etiquette has deteriorated over time? Is it true that rudeness or a don't-give-a-damn attitude has become the new trend among the younger crop? Is it true that reciprocal responses are ‌down market now? Even when there are few responses, they are succinct, such as Tks, K, S2U, and CU2mrw. Sometimes only emojis.

I found the attitude of my friend's son to be cold and egoistic. Should I delete him from my contact list instantly? No one in this world is as busy as not being able to discharge the duty of basic courtesy. And if they don't respect you, you have every right to pay back in the same coin. But I can't do that. I am from the old school and believe in ethics, values and morals.

The lack of reciprocal and ethical responses from the younger generation was clearly evident when Indian students from Ukraine landed in India as they were being rescued from war-torn Ukraine under Operation Ganga evacuation by the Indian Government. They bickered, condemned and criticized their own motherland and its officials and had the audacity to neglect the reception committee at the airport who were present to welcome them with rose flowers and bouquets in their hands. They complained that the Government showed a lackadaisical approach towards the students when they had been stranded in Ukraine which was not true. Surely the modern education system has failed to inculcate into the present generation moral values, character, ethics and etiquette which are the basic foundation of civilized demeanor.

Some may ask, what is it about etiquettes that are so appealing? It is a fundamental issue of civilization. These were also concerns voiced by Socrates. We may learn from history, philosophy, and anthropology that all civilizations have evolved formal rules—even complex ones—for basic human conduct. Even when death is the end outcome, these cultures have basic decorum. Even when we see cannibalistic customs for killing and consuming human flesh, we see that they first engage in religious rituals before killing the victim. Surely hypocrisy is bad, but it also helps to express human emotions in a way that others would appreciate. People sometimes utter '‌why I would attend a funeral when I could have gone to a movie or other form of entertainment'. However, the events of September 11th altered everything, and people now recognize the importance of respecting the dead. We must know that the need to be aggressive satisfies the thirst of animal instinct. This was common before the advent of civilization when humans were still in their aboriginal states. Now we are a civilized society.

Corporates are less formal than they were previously. T-shirts and jeans have long since replaced the blazers and ties of the 60s. Everyone knows each other by their first names. HR officers see it as their job to make the workplace more casual and to break down social etiquette barriers. This informality stems from the American egalitarian belief that everyone is equal, and it has extended throughout the corporate world as America's worldwide presence has evolved and MBA-style schooling has been more widely available, and the number of informal organizations has grown. That is to say, it is claimed that they are significantly more open. Workers who have greater independence feel more at ease and can be, be themselves, which makes them feel more familiar. Moreover, they wanted to put the British discipline behind them from whose grasp the Americans forged their nation.

As ironic as it may sound, most of these changes have originated from countries where etiquette was highly valued. It seems pretentious and artificial to an outsider that Japanese corporate life is governed by elaborate rules. The act of exchanging business cards, for example, reflects unique degrees of respect based on the presentation and exchanging of cards. Japan's strictly hierarchical structural system may not have been a suitable place for rags to riches stories of the US, but the same people empowered US workers to compete effectively. General Motors workers were trained in the Toyota plant in Japan. The training, among others, included a basic courtesy course. It is not only Japan but China which poses a threat to the US, also has customs like Japan. Among Germans, first names are not used before the five honorifics.

The etiquette in the offices is not rigidly followed, partly because they ease the strictness. It is unfortunate that business and personal lives cannot be distinguished because of it. Many people treat their colleagues like personal friends, which can be disastrous. This can lead to sexual harassment. Flirting at a party is considered okay for a lighter moment. Executives may argue that the informal system provides a safer, more noble, and more trustworthy workplace, but you and I may argue that it is unnecessary because there is already enough nobility present in the world.

Personal emails, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, mobile phones, SMS chats, no language restrictions, and texting have crossed all limits in the liberal atmosphere. Trolling has evolved into a new form of harassment. It may remind us of what Jack Welch of General Electric said, that the workplace has to be boundaryless. On one hand, he said that it’s all family and then he was downsizing and firing the employees. Contradictory, isn't it?

Every country fears that as the world becomes more global, everyone will bring their own culture and manners with them. Nothing to complain about. India has, throughout the known history of humanity, been a cauldron where different peoples, cultures, and systems assimilated only to form a new uniqueness. However, this is not depicted in the films. If we wish to learn American culture and etiquette from movies and television shows it would shock us. The majority of these films and TV shows depict violence, gun culture, and conflict in some way or the other. Learning American etiquette from these movies is like learning traffic rules through car chases, à la Fast & Furious. They don't allow speed in real life; they don't do what they do in movies. One must make an effort to comprehend that Americans have the best theories on stranger respect, individual consideration, no cloth barriers, equality, and nobility. Their films, on the other hand, are the absolute reverse of such expectations. I recall here a Hollywood movie titled Gran Torino (2008) in which protagonist Walt Kowalski (played by Clint Eastwood) is about to confess in a confession box. He is a widower, septuagenarian, and a Korean War veteran and has painful memories of the battlefield, as he has killed countless enemy soldiers, even when one of them was asking for mercy. The three things that Walt confesses are:

  1. He kissed a lady at a Christmas party in 1968.
  2. He once sold a boat and its motor for $900 and didn't pay tax on the income. Thus, he deceived the government.
  3. He repents ‌ he has never formed a close relationship with both his children and regrets ‌ he could never understand them.

Walt's confession does not even mention the war killings. Killing soldiers in a war is a part of the game. Everything is fair in love and war. It isn't a sin. What Walt's confessions clarify is the core personal values of American society and these are:

  • being faithful in relationships,
  • transparency in business and financial affairs, and
  • loving and caring for family and children. The three things he regretted and needed to "confess" were the sins he committed. The irony is he ‌committed them willingly. He was sober, not under alcoholic intoxication when he sinned. American reel and real is thus contradictory.

Football hooliganism has a long history in strict and traditional nations such as the United Kingdom. The current generation in Japan does not want to follow the laws and regulations. Nazism is a recurring theme in Germany. Racism is being discussed in Australia, while in India, the present generation wants to cross all the limits of indecency despite being fiercely religious.

When a lady asked me how to be unpleasant to her mother-in-law in a subtle way, I told her the only option was to be exceedingly courteous to her.

Image (c)


More by :  Dr. Satish Bendigiri

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