5 Sep

To clarify: this pertains a kerfuffle at the now-defunct Suzanne Brockmann’s message board, which lead to said board’s implosion

Instead of doing some things I have to do—with deadlines and everything—I’m spending some time thinking about manners.

See, I was brought up under the rule that you don’t correct other people’s manners. Not children’s, because you assume* that their parents will educate them. Not adults, because you assume* that they had manners drummed into their psyches while growing up, and that if they don’t use them is by choice, not lack.

But here’s the thing that got me thinking about this.

Imagine that you are visiting a friend, and so are a large bunch of other people. Some you know fairly well, some you have a nodding acquaintance with. Some you’ve just met recently and some are total strangers to you. They all have come to spend some time together at your friend’s living room.

Upon entering the house, each guest is told by your host that there will be all sorts of people there, with many different backgrounds and cultural mores, and to please remember to be considerate of each other’s feelings and respectful of each other’s opinions. (Note: you are not told not to disagree, only to be civil about it—and remember that disagreeing about ideas doesn’t equate with insulting the person one disagrees with)

Your friend is busy doing her own things, coming in and out of the room at what seem like random intervals while all of you people are having fun chatting around. And all is rainbows and kittens except…

~ ~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~ ~

First scenario:

At one point while your host is not in the room, one of the other guests does something mildly ill-mannered. Let’s say, for the sake of this piece, that this person farts. Hey, she’s from somewhere where farting in company is not bad manners unless oxygen masks are required as a result, so she’s completely unconcerned. Most of the people around blink a bit, perhaps look at each other in mild surprise or confusion, exchange a few shrugs, and continue with the conversation.

But there is that one person in every large group of people who marches across the room and proceeds, loudly and scathingly, to explain to the first guest how farting is akin to poisoning and to demand retraction… or something. (Yeah, the fart analogy, it ain’t working too good, but work with me, please.) Everyone else stops talking, and turns to look at this exchange with varying degrees of astonishment.

A third guests pulls the second person discretely to the side and says something to the effect of, “Wow, don’t you think that perhaps that was a tad too harsh? I mean, it didn’t even stink, you know?” to which she responds, “I reacted in the manner I deemed appropriate. I apologize if I offended you.”

Other guests, meanwhile, are feeling seriously upset at the abuse heaped on the head of the poor innocent farter, and express their feelings in a similar if less diplomatic manner—by talking about the incident loudly in the middle of the room so that every other guest knows they don’t support such overreaction. They may say, “Well, for goodness’ sake, it was a tiny fart! It’s not like you (meaning the second guest) don’t fart either! And if you felt you had to say something, couldn’t you have done so discreetly, in a side conversation?”

And things go sour from there.

~ ~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~ ~

Second scenario:

A heated conversation on a particular topic has dominated most of the room during one of your host’s absences. Suddenly she pops back in, overhears a particularly objectionable (to her) statement, and politely asks the person talking not to repeat that statement while in her living room. She smiles, and leaves again, to go about her business.

While she is gone, the person who made the objectionable statement and a couple other guests start wondering at what other specific statements your host may find objectionable. They start wondering if the rules of behavior—as were explained to them upon entering—apply different for the other guests. “Why,” they cry indignantly, “are our statements objectionable but not theirs?” while pointing wildly to the people they were arguing with. “It’s not fair! We demand that the rules be changed to specify this ‘new’ requirement!”

A person who had not participated in the conversation starts another conversation where, a bit self-righteously, she wonders at the lack of manners implied in questioning your host’s right to decide, not the topic of conversation (because she’s given all her guests free rein on that) but on the way such conversations are conducted.

A free for all ensues, until your host returns and, upon listening to all the arguments, finishes the discussion with a pointed, “My house, my rules, please behave or leave.”

~ ~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~ ~

Does anyone ever have the right—or obligation, if you prefer—to correct someone else’s manners in a space not their own? Assuming* of course that your host hasn’t charged them with keeping order or some such.

*Yes, that word. We know what happens.

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