Manners are a form of kindness whose purpose is to help put others at ease and to make others comfortable. Manners are never about embarrassing another or making them feel bad; manners are simply about making social interactions more smooth and comfortable. If you find yourself in the position of being somewhere and unsure of what the appropriate thing is (and without someone to help you), act on the impulse of kindness and grace towards others – how can you show kindness and put others at ease? If you commit a faux pas so be it, at least it will have been while attempting to act kindly instead of by acting rude or disrespectful. If others make an error in manners by mistake, either gently correct them if you can do so without embarrassing them, or ignore it. Either way, act with grace and kindness. To reiterate, manners is about putting people at ease and making others comfortable.

Manners are closely related to the form of kindness known as civility. We act in a civil way towards others when we refuse to give in to slights (perceived or real), in which we may be tempted to retaliate or otherwise be unkind. When another driver cuts you off do you give them an unkind hand gesture or curse? If so this says more about you and your character than it does about the other driver. Persons of character do not let other people’s uncivil behavior set the bar for how poorly they themselves can behave in response. If we did, society would soon become a race to the lowest forms of behavior and retaliation.

Yet I regularly see patients who yell and curse in doctor’s offices (usually because the physician won’t prescribe controlled drugs, because the patient thinks they know better than the M.D., or because they want to be seen ahead of other more urgent patients). I also notice when people yell or curse at other people over very minor, often inadvertent acts, and see instances where persons demand special treatment over others only to become angry when they don’t receive it. I have seen persons raising their voices and cursing at police officers who were merely doing their job by pulling them over for speeding. Has disrespecting a law enforcement officer ever helped the person being questioned? I suspect it usually makes the situation worse.

Since when has raised voices, cursing, or threatening behavior towards others become acceptable behavior in our country? It is unkind and reeks of self-centeredness run riot. Even if the aggrieved party has been wronged, bad behavior on the part of others does not justify or excuse bad behavior from us. Simply because you feel wronged does not give you a right to act badly, even if you have actually been wronged. Acting badly in retaliation only increases the level of unkindness, hurt, and anger in the world and exposes you as an unkind person. Remember: Kind people act kind even when we don’t feel like being kind.

This bears repeating: Bad behavior on the part of others does not justify or excuse bad behavior on our part.

There are simply far more appropriate ways to deal with frustration. Yelling, threatening or cursing is simply not a kind or appropriate way to get things done. Think about it for a moment: if a customer yells, curses, or threatens – are you more likely to want to help them or are you less likely to want to help them? Most people are less likely to want to help someone behaving in such a rude and inappropriate way. If we behave in such a manner – either as the aggressor or in retaliation – we communicate to others (especially children) that such behavior is acceptable. This is a very dangerous message for our youth as it sets the behavioral and cognitive foundation for how violence becomes acceptable. Thus, incivility and unkindness has consequences for everyone in society.

Ron Hill