Tuesday, July 31, 2018
At a recent seminar I was presenting, the question arose during the lunch break asking about the relevancy of etiquette today. I have learned to recognize that all questions are good, and this one was no exception. Within a day or two of this question being asked of me, out of the blue an etiquette expert asked if I had been teaching etiquette for long. Taking those two seemingly unrelated questions and pondering them together, I concluded that given that I catered my first dinner party at the age of 16, and have been hosting parties ever since, I should certainly be able to explain the relevancy of etiquette today.
The question about relevancy was posed by a young creative guy who genuinely had never likely considered the importance of a good handshake when making a first impression. Planning an agenda prior to attending a business mixer would likely have never crossed his mind – why would it have? What I have come to realize is how necessary, yet flexible rules or guidelines of etiquette need to be. There are many customs from yesteryear that have gone the way of the Dodo bird. Relevancy of these customs was called into question then as it always will be by people such as the young creative guy for whom there seemed to be few concentric circles.
There is no doubt that many of the actual rules of etiquette are irrelevant, but the fundamental purpose of etiquette will always be essential. The purpose for etiquette has not changed over hundreds of years. Although technically, the term ‘etiquette’ was coined during the court of Louis XIV, the purpose dated back into the age of chivalry. Visitors in those days more than likely would have been intruders; therefore, there needed to be a way to show if you were coming in peace so as to avoid being attacked. The customary sign was the removal of one’s helmet, thereby displaying vulnerability. Similarly, swords were carried on the left and hands are to this day shaken with right hands – the hand used for wielding a sword.
Taking this concept a step further, we have evolved as a society and find that respecting one another is the best way to form safe communities where cooperation translates into survival. As these communities grew, their sustainability hinged on an agreed set of rules of conduct shared by everyone ensuring that people communicated their thoughts and feelings without unknowingly insulting them.
So, when asked about the relevance of etiquette today, remembering that this code of conduct that has changed with the ages, and continues to do so, I say this is the footprint we use to avoid insulting one another and of showing respect. These actions allow us to feel safe and to be creative and to live the fulfilling lives, which is our birthright.
Etiquette is not simply about how to move gracefully through high society as it once was. To begin with, what’s left of many of those traditions is diminishing quickly. The need to be polite, however, has not. To quote Emily Post, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”
What Mrs. Post was referring to is emotional intelligence. A large part of etiquette is about being aware of how we ourselves feel about ourselves and others. This is how we can form safe communities, based on our abilities to communicate civilly with one another. Somehow during the past century this emotional intelligence all but vanished. But, it is making a comeback. More and more people understand the value of emotional intelligence in re-shaping our world.
We must remind ourselves that we are merely stewards of this wonderful planet. At the moment, we can’t justify giving ourselves high marks for our stewardship. We have decimated too much of the environment and the natural world; we have treated one another worse than any other species that ever walked the face of the Earth; we continue to marginalize people are aren’t like us; and we are either in or on the brink of a revolution or a civil war in more than one part of the world.
I hope all of you will take stewardship seriously. Step out from the shadows and make a positive change in yourself, your family, your place of work, your community, your place of worship and in your schools. Positive change requires far greater involvement by everyone of us. Wouldn’t you agree that there is a serious need for positive change? Becoming emotionally intelligent will help us be the best us we can be. Becoming emotionally intelligent will intuitively give us the good manners we need to succeed, no matter which fork we use. Is this relevant? You decide.
Jay Remer is Canada’s Etiquette Guy (). Your questions will be promptly answered at no charge.