Etiquette: It's Just Common Sense

Hold a Door Open

Good manners and good judgment make for common sense.  And a healthy and civil society needs the unwritten rules of order that call us to our better selves.

Though the dictionary defines common sense, it doesn’t talk about how a person acquires it. Certainly, paying attention to context is part of it.  Intelligence in practical life is gained as we react correctly in concrete situations. Paying attention to other people who are mindfully going about their affairs in a respectful manner is critical in the learning process.

Common Sense and Etiquette

I’ve been re-reading a delightful book written by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1962 titled Book of Common Sense Etiquette, in which she says:

“Etiquette is not just a matter of knowing how a lunch or dinner should be served, or what the “proper” behavior is in this or that situation.  There are many correct ways of behaving in almost any situation, and many proper ways of doing those things for which there are precise rules in formal etiquette books. Yet the formal rules always have had a signal usefulness, and are worthy of respectful attentions, and even though we have renounced some of them, we ought not to belittle this impulse that brought them into being, for it is the very essence of man’s desire to achieve self-respect and dignity.”  

Common sense must speak to the rules of etiquette such that good manners end up prevailing.

Developing Good Manners

As children, we instinctively fed ourselves hand to mouth.  But when we were taught to use a spoon and fork, ask for an item to be passed to us, and learned that others also would like items passed to them, practical knowledge melded into a social sense that can only develop through experience with other people.

When a child learns to say “Please” and “Thank you,” and smiles at the other person when he says it, he is not only learning manners but also adding to his bank of social knowledge. Manners are a combination of recognition of others and specific know-how.  The guiding codes are the rules of etiquette.

Each of us try to act with sound judgment and aim for sensible action in all that we do. Etiquette serves in gaining the practical knowledge that we apply to our ever-changing social and professional situations.  It helps us live reasonably and kindly, and desiring it is commonsensical. 

Many things we do in the spirit of courtesy and in line with common sense every day:

  • Opening and holding doors for others. 
  • Reciprocating the sharing of dinner with those who invite you to their table.
  • Extending verbal courtesies such as “It’s my pleasure,” “Please,” “Thank you,” and “May I?” when interacting with other people.
  • Insisting that children need to help with dinner and chores as a regular part of learning to coexist within a family.
  • Returning phone calls and emails within a short period of time.

Civility requires common sense. And if being civil is the core of mind and heart intention, a person can be confident that others will want to communicate and work with him. Others will invite you into their space because it’s more pleasant when you are there.

Regardless of your line of work, courtesy and civility are basic to professional conduct.

  • Take ownership for the level of work produced.
  • Cooperate with colleagues and management.
  • Prove dependable and trustworthy and show up on time.
  • Give the benefit of doubt. 
  • Look for the positives and aim for the bright side, taking the proverbial “high road” at every turn.

The same can be applied as communication guides.  

  • Never announce something really important in a text message.
  • Keep your focus on where you are, who you are with and why you are there.
  • Being clear and concise shows respect for the people with whom you are communicating.
  • Actively listen with intention of finding value in what others say.
  • Keep the Golden Rule active, doing to others what you would have them do and be with you.

Aiming to be respectful in all of our interactions and following through by keeping our word and taking responsibility for our own behavior develops strength of character.  Doing what we know ultimately works is common sense.

“If ever you find yourself in a situation in which following a formal rule would be manifestly unkind, forget it, and be kind instead.”

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

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