Why Good Manners Matter

Am I the only person on this planet who cares about manners? No. I found at least one other.

Remember Clara Edwards on The Andy Griffith Show? She was Aunt Bee's friend, the old biddy who harrumphed her way around Mayberry, judging the way everyone did everything. Miss Clara (who was played by Hope Summers, an actress who appeared in a surprising number of TV shows and movies) was Emily Post on steroids, pontificating on what was and wasn't done.

I frequently feel like I'm channeling Miss Clara. Bad manners abound. Men who won't allow a woman to exit an elevator first. Cars that honk after waiting less than a second at a light that just changed. People cracking their gum so loudly it sounds like a trip to the gun range. And don't get me started about talking in a movie theater. Between the popcorn chewing and whispering, I'd rather wait out in the lobby.

But I'm not alone. There's a woman living in Venice, California, named Amy Alkon, who's written two books on rudeness and manners. They call her Emily Postal because she goes nuts when confronted with bad behavior. Me, I call her my honorary sister. According to a recent New York Times article, if she sees someone littering, she'll post their picture on telephone poles.

She thinks people who drive SUVs are guilty of robbing natural resources and polluting the air. But rather than just whine about it, she gets proactive. She's printed cards that she'll leave on a gas guzzler's windshield, which read, "Road-hogging, gas-guzzling, air-fouling vulgarian! Clearly you have an extremely small penis, or you wouldn't drive such a monstrosity. For the adequately endowed, there are hybrids or electrics." Right on!

A lot of people think she's kind of nuts, but I can relate. Good manners are the social niceties that cement our society, and prevent us from becoming a cage full of rabid baboons, squealing at the top of our lungs and touching ourselves inappropriately. Modern people may find manners a complete waste of time, and as relevant as a horse and buggy, but I find they make me appreciate my fellow man.

Good manners are like art: They exalt humanity for no good reason, other than they assume the basic value of all people. In a society that has pretty much trashed most of the rules, where violence is commonplace and selfishness is applauded, good manners swim against the stream. Good manners take time, they slow us down, they force us to think about others, and how we'd like to be treated ourselves. They're the 11th Commandment and the Golden Rule.

So if you're with me, if you agree that adhering to some code of social grace is good for our society and better for our souls, then I invite you to join Miss Clara and my friend Amy, and stop honking your horn so much, for God's sake. Help an elderly person cross the street. And more than anything else, please, please close your mouth when you're chewing Jujubes at the movie theater.

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