Differentiating manners from etiquette, Judith Martin (who writes as Miss Manners) told "Smithsonian Magazine" that manners are "the principles, which are eternal and universal," and etiquette encompasses "particular rules, which are arbitrary and different in different times, different situations, different cultures." Manners help build positive relationships, at home and outside the home, because they show appreciation and respect for others. Knowing the proper etiquette for a situation generally increases confidence and, depending on the people involved, may positively influence your social standing -- though it's up to you to decide how much this matters to you. Etiquette often has practical origins. For example, gently raising the pinky upwards while pinching the handle of a dainty teacup helps balance the cup. Balancing the teacup differently needn't offend anyone. And the one who corrects the faux pas in front of others needs to mind her manners.
If you ever find yourself at a loss for words when a child asks you what the big deal is about manners, you are not alone. In case some are not satisfied with "just because" as an answer, research reveals many reasons, some quite interesting, for manners. Basically, good manners often result from being considerate of others. "Manners are not taught in lessons," as Lewis Carroll's Alice told the White Queen. Etiquette, which is much more complex and often arbitrary, can be taught in lessons. To quote Emily Post: "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."
Manners vs. Etiquette
Manners Make You Feel Good
Helping an elderly person across a street isn't just a stereotypical behavior portrayed in cartoons about people doing things to earn brownie points. Being kind is part of having good manners, and when people are kind to others they often feel better about themselves. Additionally, acting in a kind manner triggers good-feeling chemicals in the brain. This results in a "helper's high," akin to a runner's high, according to Pier M. Forni, the professor at John Hopkins University who founded "The Civility Project" and who authored the book "Choosing Civility."
Rudeness Takes a Toll
In the workplace, cases of incivility, or the lack of manners, not only increase stress, they cost more than 6 billion dollars annually, according to Smithsonian.com. "The corporate world has an incivility problem, and it’s getting worse. We text during meetings, spread rumors about colleagues . . ." writes Christine Pearson, Ph.D., who collaborated with Christine Porath, Ph.D., on the book "The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It." Those targeted by rudeness may lose hours thinking about the incident. If the incivility comes from management, those targeted tend to work fewer hours and let quality slide, according to Pearson and Porath.
Survival of the Politest
Manners have evolved over tens of thousands of years, beginning in prehistoric times when Homo sapiens lived precarious existences that often depended on living in groups of families. Thinking of each other and the good of the group was imperative. Codes of behaviors, including manners, passed from one generation to another, evolving through the years. While communal living is no longer the norm, cooperation is still beneficial to the species and to individuals.
- Smithsonian Magazine: Q and A With Miss Manners
- Thunderbird School of Global Management: The Cost of Bad Behavior
- Parents.com: Teaching Kids to Mind Their Manners
- The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It; Christine Porath, Ph.D., and Christine Pearson, Ph.D.
- The Washington Post: The Reasons for Good Manners
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images
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