Call Me Mannerly, First

By Louis R. Avallone

Do you know that there are 50 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute? Or that there are 6,000 messages sent on Twitter every second? And that there are more than a billion people who are regularly sharing stories, links, photos and videos on Facebook? It reminds me of the Toby Keith song from 2001, “I Want To Talk About Me”:

I want to talk about me
Want to talk about I
Want to talk about number one
Oh my me my
What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
I want to talk about me

Our nation, and indeed the world, has increasingly placed a greater emphasis on the fact that each of us should do what makes us feel good, or comfortable, regardless of how good, or comfortable, doing such makes others feel – and to make sure everyone knows we’re doing it. Some say that the self-esteem movement from the 1980s is to blame, as many parents and teachers emphasized the confidence of children as priority, rather than making the children face the consequences of their choices, or otherwise “feel” bad.

At Jesuit High School in New Orleans, for example, there recently were ten valedictorians recognized at graduation. At some high schools there are more than 100 valedictorians. Now, many schools are abandoning the recognition of valedictorian altogether, because of how it makes the other students “feel”.

Many schools also won’t even post the honor roll any longer because how it makes those students “feel” who do not qualify. In fact, schools now have created the “Effort Honor Roll.” This is for the kids who want to “feel” good about not qualifying to be on the honor roll, in the first place. And at Field Day, yes, everyone gets a ribbon, just for participating.

To borrow a line from the movie, The Incredibles, “Everyone’s special,” says one character, only to have another reply, “Which is another way of saying no one is.”

You see, we’ve watered-down our standards so much that it’s quite easy for no one to feel special, or to be recognized for any extraordinary achievement or applauded for their good choices, since we don’t want to make any one “feel” bad for making bad ones.

Maybe this lack of feeling special is why narcissism is on the rise, where more and more people find the need to inflate their view of themselves, leading to relative indifference of the needs of others. In fact, compared to 30 years ago, 70 percent of students today score higher on narcissism, and lower on empathy. This means more people than ever are willing to share more and more lurid details of their lives with you and me.

But is that a good thing, for any of us?

Look at Bruce Jenner, for example. He says he has always been a woman, and that by making this transition, “We’re going to change the world.” Regardless of your opinion of his particular situation, do we need to know the most intimate details of complete strangers? What greater good does it serve, other than the way it makes the person sharing the details “feel”?

Is it a good thing that my 8 year-old son knows that a father can become a woman, because of a new television series being advertised on the Disney Channel? No, it’s not.

Forget about the subject matter, though. Today it’s gender selection. Next week it could be polygamy. Next year it will be who knows what. That’s not the point. Morality aside, at the end of the day, we should only share intimate details about ourselves to complete strangers if it would be mannerly to do so.

“Manners,” says Emily Post, “are sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners.” Without that awareness, you don’t.

Manners are more than choosing the right fork at dinner, or placing your napkin in your lap. It’s more than if you notice someone has a zipper down or an earring that is missing, and you take them aside in private and tell them. Or if someone tells a story wrong, you just let it go without correcting them. Or if you want to tell a child about how a man can become a woman, and decide that’s really a discussion for the child’s parents to have.

Being mannerly means being aware that what you do, or share with others, affects the greater good for us all. It means recognizing that no one should “feel” good at the expense of everyone else’s liberty, whether it’s removing references to God in our schools or to raising expectations from one another – even at the risk of hurt feelings.

There are parents, for example, who insist their children be respected by the teacher, and yet they are disrespectful to the teachers themselves. Or those who demand respect from law enforcement officers, but are often anything but respectful, in return.

Will the number of people who believe the world revolves them continue to grow? It may. But in the meantime, folks can call you Caitlyn or Bruce, or whatever you like. As for me, I’d like to call you mannerly first.

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