#87 Miss Manners? (2004)

All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day

A recent news broadcast commented on a school program in Chicago that claimed to be teaching "manners" to inner city kids.  On the surface, this probably seems like a good thing.  There's a myth in American culture that well mannered get ahead.  We like to think that good manners are among the skills that allow people to rise to the top of society, politics, and business.  There is what seems like an infinite number of stupid assumptions that we make about our society. 

For instance, occasionally someone points out the fact that we are a highly class-focused culture and that the rich and ruling class regularly pay considerably less of their income toward supporting the culture that, primarily, exists for their use and abuse.  The politicians and spiritual leaders whose purpose is to act as the buffer between the working class and the ruling class will burn precious resources in accusing that person of trying to divide the country into "haves and have-nots."  Of course, we are a nation of haves and have-nots, but it's considered "impolite" to remind the have-nots of the condition of their condition.

It's a dichotomy.  Life is full of them. 

Often in American life, it appears that telling the truth is impolite. 

Another difficult concept to comprehend is how manners will help working class (or children who want to become working class) get ahead in the world of business.  Let's take a walk around Success Street. 

While, on the surface, the people who control business and politics appear to be well dressed and properly mannered, that surface analysis doesn't tell a useful story.  In front of the media or customers, the average ruling class representative can, mostly, appear to be civilized.  That's only a small part of the requirement for being a well-mannered person.  Even the coarsest fool knows to be polite around power (except for those drunken idiots on "Cops"). 

In practice, the rich are irrationally selfish; hoarding resources to themselves at the expense of their neighbors and fellow citizens.  They buy politicians and the media to create laws to insulate themselves from responsibility to their communities.  In times of great need, they will do anything to avoid sharing their wealth and, often, choose those times to flaunt the fact that they are not "like ordinary people."  In practical application, the rich are as likely to be vicious, self-serving, and arrogant as a crack dealer.  Those characteristics are rarely considered to be well mannered, regardless of social position.  Fortunately for the rich and powerful, they get to make the rules so they rarely have to suffer ill comparisons. 

However, I think we ought to develop a nation-wide program to teach manners to the rich and powerful.  Someone who understands the situation of the pampered and powerful and has the courage to explain common decency to the uncommon would be required to do the teaching.  Ralph Nader comes to mind, to toss a name into the hat. 

July 2004

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