By Douglas P. Welbanks

I have been waiting for a long time for someone else to speak up about the sudden disappearance of common courtesies and basic manners. Thank you Douglas Todd for having the audacity to make the issue public in his recent article entitled, Are bad manners slowly becoming socially acceptable?

He begins the public discussion by citing a recent poll conducted by Mario Canesco of Insights West that suggests our international reputation of Canadian politeness is rapidly becoming extinct. In the survey he found 62% of British Columbians out of a group of 700 believe we are less polite – and that this deterioration has occurred in the last 5 years. Highlights of this survey are as follows:

  • 50% surveyed had witnessed someone cutting into the line in front of them at a store or counter in the past month.
  • 78 per cent of B.C. residents had seen someone littering or leaving trash behind in a public space.
  • A disturbing one in three British Columbians said they have been hearing fewer pleases and thank yous in the past five years.
  • Six out of 10 British Columbians said they had seen someone in the past month, chewing with their mouth open.
  • Three out of four experienced someone interrupting or talking over you while you are speaking.”
  • Three out of four British Columbians said they’d recently witnessed motorists cutting someone else off on the road.
  • 72% said “impolite or rude” behaviour occurred while they are in a car.
  • Rudeness while using social media:
    • 62 per cent (of those who use it), shopping at a store
    • 50 per cent of all residents in the workplace
    • 48 per cent of those who work in an office
    • 47% using public transit
    • 43% per cent of all residents

This research is very interesting and demonstrates basic cracks forming in a social network of cultural values that took centuries to build.

It may be said that manners and social courtesies are part of a wider evolutionary process that, over time, protect people from issues getting much worse. For example, if you are rude to someone chances are quite good they will be rude back. And, this can quickly escalate feelings of anger or insult people to the point of fist fights, knives, stabbings or gun shots. Pride has always been a trigger for violence especially when someone’s feelings are hurt or someone loses face.

The matter of someone cutting you off in a lane while driving is one thing, but throwing up your index finger in the offender’s face clearly is intended to offend and insult. Road rage is a serious social malady today that contains many secrets about our society – our frustration levels, our attitudes about ourselves – how dare anyone cut ME off – No-one cuts me off because, well…..and a fairly substantial list of reasons why people are important or have rights that should never be breached could be recited.  And to make things worse, I routinely see the obvious violator return the egregious symbol of ill repute back or honk furiously as if to say – who are YOU to tell me what to do? Or, I am above reproach – I own an expensive car, I am better than you, YOU or your opinion don’t mean anything to me because I don’t care about anybody else but ME….

These indiscretions and outright disrespect for driving laws disregard the evolutionary process as well as the governments that try to prevent accidents and remind me of an advertisement I heard when I was in my teens – “In every car accident someone is right, DEAD right.”

So, even if you are right you could wind up dead or seriously injured. These are good reasons to be polite because cars can do big damage very quickly.

A similar attitude operates with texting while driving – a blatant disregard for laws designed to protect public safety – all that have followed numerous fatalities where young and innocent victims join the list of the perished or those who have been permanently disabled.

Littering on public and private property shows a basic contempt for society. People know this is wrong, but they do not want the fast food wrappings and bags in their cars – or carry them to a garbage disposal dispenser on the street if they are walking. They scoff down their cheeseburgers, fries, soda pop or whatever they have picked up at the fast food outlets – another symptom of the culture we live in – and want to unload their debris onto someone else’s  shoulders. Let someone else do it – yes, another new cultural norm.

There are many other worthy candidates for a list of bad manners.

  • public washrooms (do you need me to explain further?)
  • public swimming pools
    • children and adults standing for lengthy intervals in busy overcrowded shower facilities while others wait.
    • children and adults using enormous quantities from the free soap out of the public dispensers in the showers
    • Adults and children walking through shower facilities with muddy boots leaving an ostensible trail of muck behind.
    • Adults and children not turning the public funded showers off when finished.
    • Adults shaving in saunas and steam rooms.
    • Adults attending saunas and steam baths while obviously ill
    • Adults taking young infants into a hot tub and letting them sit for lengthy intervals.
  • Talking loudly in public areas and on public transit on cell phones.
  • Sneezing or coughing in public without covering the mouth?
  • Sneezing or coughing in public, covering the mouth and then shaking your hand?
  • Drivers that never stop at stop signs or a red traffic light. Instead many drivers seem to race those with the right of way to get in front or, stop abruptly at an intersection with the front end of the vehicle obstructing all traffic.
  • Unwatched young children in public play areas while parents are busy talking or texting on cell phones – or are engaged in discussions with friends or other parents. Children often end up being unnecessarily injured.
  • A society that only notices something when it goes wrong.
  • A society that worships material wealth so deeply that wealth supersedes all other considerations – that it is okay for wealthy people to litter, be rude, to butt in front, to be treated better than the poor or middle classes, to be given preferential interest rates because they have more money on deposit in the financial institution than the poor or middle income groups, etc.  This sends a strong and confusing message about manners and morality to people. That how you are treated depends on how important you are.
  • Would racial prejudice be considered bad manners or a moral indiscretion – or unlawful?
  • Would gender discrimination be considered bad manners or a moral indiscretion – or unlawful?

The funny thing about manners and a ‘civilized’ society is the word civil. This means courteous, sensitive to others, being conscious of others, being social – and if a society begins to breakdown on the basic level – of common courtesies, then no doubt we are headed back to a more primitive, wild kingdom state where survival of the biggest and the strongest reign supreme.

Who is to Blame?

Mr. Todd’s article strays into the question, who is to blame and without question, the number 1 target is parents – 93 % of the sample group of 700 say that parents are failing to teach their children proper behaviour.

I find these kinds of answers to be troublesome, primarily because of the usage of the term proper. Proper according to what standards? – or the lack of standards? Religious, legal, parental?

Technology is cited as a primary contributor to bad behaviour (manners) (84%), that face to face interaction has dwindled.

Television is designated the same percentage of 84% that includes a tasteless pop culture, movies, poor examples from celebrities, athletes and other public figures and a moral decline in politicians who engage in personal attacks. This is a huge series of concepts to understand and digest. What is meant by pop culture? Or tasteless? Which movies and what specific message(s) are problematic.

But, we need to add to this list too. Violence surrounds us. On the streets, at the cinema and at home on the television.

The usage of the F word or its many cousins may trigger a violent reaction and heighten a person’s anger. If you were to use a different words such as menacing villains the anger level would not likely augment. However, a flurry of F’s, B’s, A’s designed to maximize the vituperative atmosphere magnifies the hostility to unbelievable heights over relatively small things.

We live in an angry world. Why so angry? One possible reason could be the negativity of the news around us. Bad behaviour of governments, citizens, gangs, criminals and neighbours all contribute.

It’s amazing what can happen when we forget to say please and thank you and adopt an attitude of entitlement or superiority.

PS This is Learned Behaviour

It could be said that part of the Canadian culture is to blame someone else for our problems. Certainly, over the last generation or two, Generation X, Y or what has been called, M2 squared, a growing temptation has been to blame others – the parents, the government, siblings or unforeseen circumstances. This has opened the gateway to avoid responsibility for our actions.

Governments, politicians, corporations, the credit crunch of 2007- and an ongoing flurry of economic, political and moral breaches ends up with a revolving finger of guilt that keeps moving around an indefinite table of culprits – often being deferred to the courts that take years to resolve – long after the public memory has faded and a quiet out of court settlement is negotiated and accepted.

Some of us see the deterioration of basic morals and the Canadian cultural history as a product of an instant gratification culture that supplants all other considerations to money and the accumulation of wealth. This culture worships the successful and ridicules the poor and the middle class. This culture laughs at those who carry credit card balances even though there is over $500 billion outstanding in consumer credit in Canada. This culture could care less about social morals and politeness – national boundaries or national identities. Money only matters.

This is, of course, learned behaviour that in part attracts others from foreign countries to bring their millions to Canada and enjoy the health care system and educational system at minimal cost. No commitment to Canada’s legacy of love and kindness is requested or mentioned. Just bring the cash. Show us – the governments and the politicians – the money. That will do the trick.

The instant gratification culture is no simple phenomenon that can be explained or assessed in a few paragraphs and goes back to the Robber Barons in the US at the beginning of the 20th Century.

The credit system created the environment of unrealistic dreams, impossible financial plans and eventually threatened the entire fabric of the global economy.  At the same time, the credit system fueled the world economy with affluence never before experienced and financed, in many respects, the technological age with automated banking, automated teller machines and 24 hour on-line banking. There is both good and bad.

Unfortunately, in the race to the top of the financial system, the family unit may have been the greatest casualty. The creation of the dual family income basically forced both mother and father into the workforce to pay basic living expenses, leaving the children in day care centres, with babysitters, grand parents, friends and others. Children often attached to peers and others rather than parents. The internet and computers have filled in the gap of parental supervision – mainly for the working classes and those who lack basic parenting skills. Let the kid play video games because I would rather bake muffins or talk to friends… or because I am not there… etc.

In other words, money may ultimately be the root of the evil found in the new millennium with respect to basic rules of conduct and politeness – especially the lack of money. Those who must work are not spending quality time with their children. The wealthy shuttle their children to every known extracurricular class or activity – almost like avoiding all contact or involvement.

Kids learn to be social or impolite.

What we know for sure is that the children watch their parent’s example. They see very early how their parents spend their money, treat other people, say please or thank you. It is learned behaviour that has been firmly established by the teenage years  – almost impossible to change later.

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