RONZONE: More than manners



Raquel Ronzone

For far too long, we modern Americans have amused ourselves with the puerile notion that past generations do not compare with ours, that their strict traditions of formality impeded their steps into the advanced world that we alone, by our own haughty estimates, created.

Their forms of communication, their profound understanding of respect and their limitless gratitude contrast with our rude yet anonymous interactions, our ruthlessly and unnecessarily aggressive behaviors and our inflated sense of privilege. Men and women of the United States have become the joke – the impolite, uncivilized, insensitive spectacles that shame the refined people who lived before us and burden the day-to-day lives of our peers.

We admit as much by our own accord. According to an ABC News article published on April 3, 2002, Public Agenda, a public policy research group, surveyed people about the status of good manners in America.

This January 2002 study concluded that 61 percent of the 2,013 adults believed more rude behavior existed at that time than in the past. Eighty percent of the adults surveyed considered lack of respect and courtesy a serious national problem.

Respondents blamed poor conduct on cell phones and other new technologies, on parents who failed to instill proper social skills in their offspring and on popular culture. Only 41 percent of the participants cited themselves as a part of the problem, a dilemma in itself.

Since the publication of that study, professionals have theorized about different culprits of rudeness. C. Dallett Hemphill, a history professor at Ursinus College, commented on Public Agenda’s survey, saying, “Today’s celebration of difference in our society is liberating, but has possibly undermined consensus on good behavior.”

In an article in The New York Times titled “Kids Gone Wild,” published on Nov. 27, 2005, child psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld blamed parents’ and caretakers’ unwillingness to discipline children, and child psychologist Dr. Dan Kindlon faulted the Darwinian competitiveness – particularly the type that disregards the welfare of others – often lauded by society. Emerging from these professional standpoints about decorum toward other people in general is the issue of courtesy towards the opposite sex.

Members of both sexes have insisted with growing frequency lately that advances in women’s rights have “killed chivalry,” generosity and consideration especially toward women. This argument rests on the idea that men’s “special treatment” of women has lost its importance and necessity as women express their self-sufficiency in a more accepting society.

Neither men nor women benefit when their ability to perform simple acts of kindness or express their gratitude verbally is determined only by gender. Human rights activists have not fought for equality between the sexes, an inherent attribute of life, but rather for the recognition of that parity. Consider chivalry synonymous with respect. It is nothing more or less than the hospitable treatment of peers, friends, employees, family members and anyone else – from cashiers to the person who holds open the door for you – with whom you have crossed paths during the course of your day.

We Americans have nurtured a capricious relationship with decorousness. We narrow-mindedly associate it strictly with dinner etiquette or erroneously trivialize it in comparison to moral issues. Throughout all our criticism of this so-called archaic practice, we prove ourselves as hypocrites: We demand the utmost respect from others without showing it to them.

We passively, tearlessly accept the “death of chivalry,” but we object when doors shut abruptly in our faces, when the conversations around us intensify in volume and personal content, and when the language in earshot becomes vulgar and undignified. We grumble when neighbors disrespect our privacy, when familiar faces offer no greeting, when passersby do not return our smiles of acknowledgment, when strangers utter no words of appreciation and when peers boast of their perceived entitlement and superiority. We clamor when people take for granted the thoughtfulness we have shown them.

We can pinpoint our culture, upbringing, competition, disciplinary carelessness, antiquated theories about gender roles or any other aspect of life as the cause of our bad manners, but as we are the ones who commit our every action, we are ultimately responsible for extending the goodwill we idealize. Embody the advice of Roman philosopher Seneca: “As long as we are among humans, let us be humane.”


Raquel Ronzone is a sophomore from Philadelphia, Pa. She can be reached at [email protected].