“Good manners are the cornerstone of civilisation.” David Fisher/REX
If I ruled the world—and I have to admit I’m surprised and insulted that this is the first time it’s been suggested—I would enshrine in law one principle: that we should all mind our manners.
There’s a line in Tom Stoppard’s play Professional Foul that says: “The history of human calumny is largely a series of breaches of good manners.” It makes complete sense to me. Good manners are the cornerstone of civilisation.
I’m not talking about etiquette—knowing how to use a fruit knife and whether it’s OK to blow your nose in polite company. Etiquette is just the veneer of a civilised society; it makes it look polished but conceals what’s going on underneath. Indeed, I often think that etiquette is itself an example of bad manners—a codified way of making people feel ignorant and out of place.
Good manners are much more fundamental. They come from empathy and tolerance and respect, and if you allow those to be your guiding principles, you’ll make life a whole lot nicer for everyone around you.
Many societies tolerate the most egregious bad behaviour. Take religions, for example, spouting “thou shalt not kill” at the same time as encouraging people to bump off anyone with differing beliefs. Century after century of religious intolerance, wars, crusades, suicide bombings. It’s one thing trying to persuade someone of the error of their ways (though personally I think that’s pretty bloody cheeky too) but killing them over it—what could possibly be less polite?
For the record, I don’t give two hoots whether you believe in one god or 500 or none at all. When I’m in charge, and as long as you don’t impose it on anyone else, you’ll be free to believe whatever the hell you want without fear of persecution or ridicule (I’m looking at you, sneery atheists—let people be irrational if they want to. As long as they don’t foist their outré notions onto you.)
Likewise sexism: shouting comments about a woman’s breasts as you drive past her—in what universe can that possibly be acceptable? Leaving aside the fact that it’s threatening and reduces a human being to a set of discrete components awaiting your appraisal, it’s also downright rude. Wolf-whistling, cat-calling, grabbing, groping, leering and the countless heinous activities that follow when this sort of behaviour is sanctioned will be consigned to history.
Internet trolling—well, obviously that’s ghastly. Being insulting, threatening and vile is quite uncalled for in any circumstances, but doing it anonymously is beyond the pale. Good manners will stop that happening too. When Professor Mary Beard was on the receiving end of some utterly foul-mouthed abuse for having the temerity to be intelligent but not overly keen to conform to a Kardashian-style aesthetic, one of her trolls was brought to his knees not by the police or threats of violence, but by the fear that his mother might find out. Take heed, parents everywhere. Your job is not to make sure your kids get tutored in Mandarin and classical lute; it’s to teach them courtesy.
Under my reign, gay marriage won’t be called gay marriage anymore; it’ll be called marriage. Because nobody will mind who you fall in love with or what you get up to when you do. It’s the height of rudeness to interfere in people’s sex lives.
And I’ll be bringing back privacy. Privacy is not the same as secrecy. Prurient interest is not the same as public interest—we don’t have a right to know everything about each other and we definitely don’t have a right to judge.
If I ruled—oh heck, let’s say when I rule the world—I’ll commission some research into people who use the phrase “political correctness gone mad.” I guarantee that a Venn diagram would show they’re the same people who complain about people eating fast food on a bus or not holding doors open. And they’re right to—both of those misdemeanours show a lack of courtesy. But it’s pretty hard to deny that calling someone a “cripple” or a “mong” or a “slope” shows a significantly greater lack of it. Political correctness isn’t, as it’s often made out to be, another form of etiquette—a set of hard to follow, pointless rules and fads and restrictions on one’s personal freedom. It’s politeness. Treating everyone with respect.
Good manners cost nothing and make the world a brighter place.
Oh… I nearly forgot: thanks so much for reading this.