Everyday Etiquette Rules

Friends Walking Together

A reluctant student asked me, "Should a person try to follow every old etiquette rule?"

My answer was, "It depends."  An etiquette guideline from 200 years ago such as leaving a calling card when you attempt to visit someone, wouldn't fit with today's social environment.  Today, we can text, email, or call to let someone know we stopped by.

In 1787, George Washington wrote, "Cleanse not your teeth with the tablecloth, fork, or knife." (Rules of Civility, Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation)  He was encouraging his peers to be aware that using a tablecloth, fork, or knife to pick one's teeth at the table could be offensive to fellow diners.

Etiquette practices change, but the need to know what is current in terms of the practices of courtesy doesn't change.  Paying attention to the needs of others never goes out of style.

Acting in earnest to discover and be what is recognizably respectful helps us be the persons we want to be every day.

It Begins with Awareness

Aiming for greater personal awareness helps you know if a courtesy is to be extended, a kind word said, or gratitude expressed.  And sometimes, it means just being quiet or saying, "No, thank you."

As P. M. Forni, author of Choosing Civility, the Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct put it, "Courtesy, politeness, manners, and civility are all, in essence, forms of awareness."  We need to de-trivialize the notions of good manners and civility.

The more aware and mindful of the people around you, yourself, and the actions you take, the more "etiquette-ful" you can become.

What's So Important About Everyday Etiquette?

Many people still hold the perception that etiquette is reserved for the elite or for formal occasions.  I would guess that this perception prompted the question from my student about following every etiquette rule.

Everyday etiquette is really nothing more than practicing the niceties of politeness and courtesy.

Besides knowing you are doing the right thing, there are benefits in aiming to be mindful and aware of others, with respect and kindness as the guiding principles. 

  • We gain appreciation of others trying to be human; that is, being a part of one social scene or another we grow in experiencing empathy.  
  • Etiquette lessens feelings of awkwardness in social situations while simultaneously gaining confidence.
  • It's character reinforcing.  Internalizing the rules of friendliness, welcoming others, establishing personal boundaries, and respecting the boundaries of others, recognizing the strengths and contributions of others, become habits that influence and inform our own habits. 
  • It’s consequential.  People want to be around people who value others.  You can choose to be this person by aiming to be etiquette-ful. 
  • It’s enlightening to practice understanding that you don’t have to get everything right.  Aiming to be etiquette-ful frees you from the worry of having to pretend perfection.  You realize that you simply need to observe, and take note of what is outside of you, which may or may not call for a response.  This is civility: the kind and empathetic action that follows observation. 

Etiquette observances will continue to evolve as situations change, but the guiding principles of civility and gracious goodness will remain.  We are the beneficiaries of everyday etiquette rules.

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