O Manners, Where Art Thou?

By Michael Field

“All I really need to know… I learned in kindergarten.” – Robert Fulghum

What happened to us? What happened to the men standing at a dinner table when a lady stood up or sat down? What happened to giving up your seat on the subway for someone much more in need of a seat? Where’d the handshake run off to?

These questions, and many more, plague me while I live and work amongst the masses. Manners are being killed and the murderer is laziness. We have lost our way. We no longer look upon being courteous and welcoming with pride. We have succumbed to indifference. Can we be saved?

Perhaps. Here’s a sampling of my gripes.

Introducing Yourself

You meet someone new and what should you do? Say hello, of course! But more importantly, tell the person your name. Nodding, “What’s up” is not an introduction. It’s an insult. If we were two teenagers in high school, passing each other in the hallway on our way to our respective homerooms, then the nod would be appropriate.

But we are not teenagers. We are adults. Adults shake each other’s hands. They make eye contact and tell each other their names. They stand upright and are respectful… Sometimes, right?

While we’re on the subject of handshakes, I’d like to stop the hand-hug. You know the handshake that turns into a hand-grab and then into a hug, which culminates in one arm around another’s back for a close-fisted pat on that back. Why is this something that has permeated the workplace? I completely understand it in sports, high school, college, or any informal setting because it’s an informal greeting and rock on with it. I’ve used it — mind you, badly, since I just can’t seem to get the dang thing down. It’s wince-inducing when I see a man in his mid-60s hand-hugging people in the workplace.

The Door Situation

You enter a building and there’s someone behind you, please hold the door open for them. I don’t care if you’re in a rush to order your Egg McMuffin, just hold the damn door. Whether you’re coming or going; if someone is about to go through the same door you’re currently using than hold it for him or her. It’s 3-5 seconds of your time.

Please and Thank You

Simple, right? Apparently, it’s extremely difficult for people to say these two words. Are you king of the world? Since I know the answer to that question, how about you start tagging the end of your commands with the word “please.” And when someone is so nice to do something for you, toss out a “Thank you.” Not some of the time. ALL THE TIME.

Also, one of least used phrases in the social setting has to be: “You’re welcome.” Telling someone that they’re welcome after they thank you is your way of telling that person that you appreciate their thanks. Who wouldn’t want to know that their “thank you” was appreciated? I, myself, am guilty of forgetting to say, “you’re welcome”, but I’m working on fixing that. Let’s avoid phrases like: “No worries”. “Not a problem.” “Any time” or the one I got the other day at Dunkin’ Donuts – “Yup.”

Excuse Me? Excuse You!

I understand people are in a rush at times. I’m cool with that. Sometimes, things need to be done quickly. Instead of shoving past me without a single world of warning, a little “excuse me” might be nice to hear. Knocking into me or squeezing around me is annoying. My favorite is when people get annoyed that they have to wedge themselves around me. Then I get a derisive look accompanied with a loud ‘sigh.’

Hey pal, all you had to say was “Excuse Me” and I would’ve moved. Be annoyed with your own lack of manners and not me unknowingly being in your way.

A Smile Goes a Mile

I stole the title from my web series, but it applies. Show me some teeth! My day job brings me in contact with thousands of people a week and if you scan the lobby you will find solemn faces and smiles turned upside down. Seriously, if you make eye contact with someone in passing, toss out a smile. You’re guaranteed to get a smile right back. Wouldn’t that be pretty cool? Strangers smiling at each other for no other reason than that they made eye contact.

To quote one of my favorites and underrated movie: “Smile. It’s Free.”


Why have we devolved into manner-less masses? Low self-esteem? Lack of self worth? Indifference to our fellow man? I admit that it’s hard to open up and share a piece of yourself when you’re kind to others. If being a teenager taught us anything, it’s that others are waiting for a chance to knock you down. A snide remark hurts more than being punched. People laughing at you because you tried something different; you tried being nice. I’ve been there. On both sides.

I can’t say it gets better, because unfortunately some people don’t mature. The only person you can worry about is yourself and how you want to live in this world. Do you want to be an asshole? Do you strive to have relationships with others based solely on what people you hate? If so, then keep it up.

But what if you want more? If you want a life full of meaningful relationships, fulfilled goals, and great times, then it starts with treating others with respect and realizing that these practices of gratitude are the building blocks to developing yourself as a well-rounded individual in society.

It all starts with manners.