Etiquette: a virtue missing in today’s civilised world
Aug 22 2013
Most times, people are so buried in their cellphones, in their problems, in themselves, (I use the word buried deliberately, like a non-living state!) that they have no time or smile for anyone else. You need to be sensitive to the world you live in, to the people you live with, to the world that nurtures you. Being sensitive comes from being aware that the other person deserves of respect just as we deserve of self-respect. To be sensitive towards people requires genuine concern, not a knee jerk reaction. To treat others as we treat ourselves is an age-old maxim, but so relevant today. To treat others with respect, concern and care is the hallmark of a civilised man. Take the example of a handshake. Handshakes are so revealing: one has books written on the psychology of handshakes! A warm handshake that is not intimidating or overtly forceful, accompanied by a bright smile and a relaxed body language will immediately put people at ease. Body language, another important aspect of a person, is relaxed when one is comfortable with oneself and in one’s own skin. Someone who walks with an easy gait, not obviously stiff, not ramrod straight like in the army, not sloppy either, just normal and relaxed.
Etiquette is the twin sister of good manners. For example, when you introduce two people to each other, you always introduce the older person first or maybe the person in a position of power. But it is equally important how you introduce the other person and how special you make the other person feel. When you are in a position of power, it’s easy to be gracious, but when you are not at par with the person in front of you, it’s the job of the host to put you at ease. Empty gestures and selfish motives are easy to detect. Etiquette means being fair and correct with the poise of a ballerina. Good manners are always reflected in how you treat others, since what goes around comes around. I know people who are embarrassed of their grandmothers or parents. But one must never forget one’s roots. Integrity, honesty, optimism, and warmth shine through the clothes you wear. These qualities also shine through the conversation you hold. So, the point is to possess that invaluable sense of self worth that is more precious than any solitaire.
I used to frequent a tailor’s shop in Khan Market who knew every customer by name. His remembering our children’s names, his smile, his calling out to find out about our families and his graciousness endeared him so much to us. Sure, it was a sales pitch, we were his customers after all, but his gentle manner and tone was far more civilised than a lot of people from fancy restaurants and hotels. Often offensive behaviour is in the tone you use with people. My daughter always says, “Ma you can scold with words but keep the tone gentle.” I guess the words we use and the smile we wear, are all personal choices!
(The writer is a theatre director and novelist)