A student once asked me, "Should a person comply with every 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. After all, we have smart phones now!
The most important thing to remember is that doing the right thing is what everyday etiquette is all about.
Aiming for more 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.
A friend of mine recently commented that he never learned how to handle the tools of the table, as his father didn't believe in etiquette. My comment was, "What's not to believe about etiquette?"
As P. M. Forni puts it, "Courtesy, politeness, manners, and civility are all, in essence, forms of awareness."
The more aware and mindful of the people around you, yourself and the space you occupy, and the actions you take, the more "etiquette-ful" you become. Etiquette is all about "how-to."
Awareness at the table, and mindfulness of those with whom you are dining, are the main ingredients of a mannerly meal. Methods and procedures are helpful, but common sense should prevail.
For example, as George Washington wrote, "Cleanse not your teeth with the tablecloth, fork, or knife." [“Rules of Civility, Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation,” by George Washington, 1787.] 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.
The everyday etiquette in my friend's case would be to remain aware when dining with others so that courtesy and civility are shown.
Many people still hold the perception that etiquette is reserved for the elite or for formal occasions. I would even guess that this perception prompted the question from my student about following every etiquette rule.
Sure, the rules are important. Otherwise they wouldn't be relied upon by so many people to keep interactions civil.
When you are mindful and aware of others, and use courtesy and kindness as an everyday etiquette guideline, the finite rules of etiquette naturally fall into place. Some observations on why we learn these rules are:
What I’ve discovered the past several years as I focus on what it means to be etiquette-ful is that it’s not unusual to feel more and more at home as an authentic me. There’s something harmonious about that feeling.
If being aware, and using everyday etiquette yields authenticity and confidence, I'd say it is something we should all partake of!