Manners 8.0

Published: August 3, 2011

By Jim Lichtman
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If the crisis over the debt ceiling in Washington has shown me anything it’s the fact that there are few in Congress that I would invite to dinner based on recent actions. Worst among them, Missouri Representative and Democrat, Emanuel Cleaver was quoted by online newspaper Roll Call as calling the debt bill “a sugar-coated Satan sandwich.”  Besides being a representative, Cleaver is also a United Methodist pastor.

What would Miss Manners say about Rep./Rev. Cleaver?

“Manners are the basis of civilized society. One of the biggest sorrows in America is that people want to retaliate against rudeness with rudeness. One of my main missions is to say, No, there is no excuse for rudeness. Ever. Period.”

Judith Martin, a.k.a. Miss Manners said that in a TIME magazine cover story back in the stone age of 1984.

Today, Martin pleads her case for good manners on the Lifestyle page of the MSN Web site. From “rude texters to pushy helicopter parents,” the site proclaims, “Miss Manners has the proper response for all of us who long for a return to common courtesy.”

Tired of working the political cocktail circuit for The Washington Post, Martin asked her editor if she could try a column on etiquette. “Editors all thought etiquette was dead,” says Martin. “Even the word was a joke. I thought I was just writing for a bunch of old cranks like myself, but then I started getting floods of mail from young people. These were the people who were supposed to think etiquette was stupid and ludicrous, and they were all writing me and asking me questions. I found out that these people realized that they had been lied to by their parents.”

Based on many of the political talking heads who literally shout at one another in the media as well as on the hill, manners, civility and respect are needed now more than ever. The simple fact is, if everyone is talking, no one is listening. How can Washington officials solve any of the problems they were sent to solve if everyone spends more time talking than listening?

The real problem is how people treat one another. One of the most fundamental ethical values is that of respect.

Respect means more than civility, courtesy and decency. It means recognizing and honoring each person’s right to autonomy, self-determination, privacy and dignity. An ethical person employs personal, official and supervisory authority in a manner that provides others with the information they need to make educated decisions about their lives.

Respect also embraces the notions of tolerance and acceptance – tolerating other people’s beliefs as well as accepting individual differences without prejudice.

While elected officials do not have an ethical duty to admire someone with whom they disagree, they are obligated to treat everyone with respect regardless of who they are. Further, because of their visibility, elected officials carry the additional responsibility to set a positive example in their behavior. This is why I’m so disturbed by Rev. Cleaver’s words regarding the debt ceiling bill that finally passed the Senate and signed into law yesterday by Mr. Obama.

Although disappointed at the actions of some, President Obama stood before the press and the nation with deference.

“Congress has now approved a compromise to reduce the deficit and avert a default that would have devastated our economy. It was a long and contentious debate…

“…voters may have chosen divided government, but they sure didn’t vote for dysfunctional government. They want us to solve problems. They want us to get this economy growing and adding jobs. And while deficit reduction is part of that agenda, it is not the whole agenda. Growing the economy isn’t just about cutting spending; it’s not about rolling back regulations that protect our air and our water and keep our people safe. That’s not how we’re going to get past this recession. We’re going to have to do more than that.

“And that’s why, when Congress gets back from recess, I will urge them to immediately take some steps — bipartisan, common-sense steps — that will make a difference…”

He clearly outlines for the public the information they need to know for the short term. He then lays out what his plans are for the long term – demonstrating both courtesy and respect for Congress while emphasizing that both he and they are “going to have to do more.”

In a time where respect seems obsolete, “Miss Manners politely reminds us that good manners never go out of style.”


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