Oct 12, 2013

PHILOSOPHY OF ETIQUETTE

I am appalled when I see people all around the world lacking normal etiquette in dealing with each other at work places, in businesses, personal or social relationships. Etiquettes in life teach people to live in a civilized manner. It is a code of conduct which delineates norms and expectations for social and personal behaviors. It is the foundation of mannerism. It casts an aura of sophistication and represents classiness in people. It is also a standard which demarcates between the educated and unruly people in the world. Etiquettes elevate our being as a civilized race on the planet. Unfortunately on the onset of gaining independence from the colonial rules especially in the third world, people assumed the meaning of independence as freedom from all controls including normal etiquettes which has been the hallmark of the civilization. People may be on a high position or have earned several degrees from prestigious educational institutions or may be successful socially or economically, but in the absence of normal etiquettes, they remain uncivilized.  Etiquettes distinguish an aristocrat from a boorish.

Etiquettes are responsible for making codes of conduct for our normal lives. In turn it establishes rules for orderly behavior in society. Etiquettes are equally necessary in our personal lives and in our family relationships. It teaches us how to be tolerant and behave with sobriety even in a fit of mood swings. It helps us in balancing our responses to people. Normal etiquettes also help in developing relationships with our kith's and kin’s, friends and foes, clients or employers. It creates an atmosphere of elegance and exclusiveness and soothes people’s unfounded trepidation.

Therefore I am forced to analyze why less and less people have normal etiquettes in their personal and social lives? What is making mannerism less important than coarseness? Is our civilization on decline? Is our social and education system focused more on survival than making us cultured? Are we going backward culturally and becoming unsophisticated? Why are people becoming more primitive in their thinking and behavior instead of becoming urbane? Is it because of education, culture or religion?

Generally etiquettes are a part of the diplomatic protocols where dignitaries or diplomats of two sovereign nations try to convey the message of respect, honor and friendliness to each other by behaving in civilized manners. This creates an ambiance of comfort and triggers the scope for dialogues and negotiations. The influence of etiquette and diplomatic protocols is so strong that they keep the room open for discussion between the two worst enemy nations. The end of cold war between the US and the USSR is the best example of this diplomatic code of behavior. The example of diplomatic protocols also points out that this exclusive and extraordinary behavioral skills have been remained confined to a select group of people. Whereas the public at large has not been taught or exposed to basic etiquettes by our modern education system and gradually apoplectic behavior has become the norm of our lives. Some good schools teach mannerism at the initial phases of our lives but they seem to have long forgotten in the hustle bustles of our lives.

Etiquettes have been also defined as ‘unwritten norms of behavior that make interaction pleasant”. Here I disagree with the definition as these norms are part of a civilized society and should have been codified and taught in schools and colleges as mandatory subjects in order to live in a cultured world. If this would have been made possible then the world would have been a beautiful place to live and we all would have accepted each other as part of the civilized world apart from caste, creed, religion and race.

Therefore, I feel that the modern education system in the world is largely responsible for the moral degradation and loss of socially acceptable etiquettes. They are more focused in teaching survival techniques to students and subjects which can help them in making money or becoming socially successful instead of teaching them decency, decorum, politesse, seemliness, protocol and suavity. The entire education system in the world has become money-centric instead of value-centric and in turn our value system has been eroded gradually.

For those who are not aware of etiquettes at all, I will like to describe the types of etiquettes with examples in our civilized lives:

  1. Family Etiquettes: Every social norms and practices start from the family. If a family believes in decency, morality and ethics then our offspring’s become like us and in contrary if we are discourteous, harsh, loudmouth, boastful and deceitful then they become like so. I have seen several families where people are boastful with their education, success, position and background but lack minimum humility, courtesies and etiquettes. As a result there is a discontentment and rift within the family, between parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. The family etiquettes demand that we must respect each other, show compassion and be courteous in our approach. Where a family member is younger or older, capable or incapacitated, successful or a failure, fair or dark, tall or dwarf, intelligent or foolish, we must show respect to them as humans instead of giving them humiliation and disrespect.  Family etiquettes teach us how to behave with our parents or children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. The etiquettes keep a tap on our anger, ego, frustration and day to day conduct with each other.  In turn the family environment becomes happy, courteous with lots of positivity.
  2. Social Etiquettes: Generally what we are at home, we project to the outside world. But social etiquettes demand a certain code of conduct with people other than our family members. Every culture has some family and social traditions in showing respect to each other. Such as in Japan, people show respect by bowing down halfway from the waist. In the Western world people show respect by shaking hands. In India people show respect by folding both hands in front of their chest. In Islamic countries people show respect by bowing and taking their right hand to forehand and also by addressing them in certain manners. These social courtesies make people comfortable and break the barriers of communications. In another example, it will be a great disrespect and discourteous on our part, if we do not wish somebody to whom we know or have been close, in a social function or gathering. Even if we do not like or stopped liking the person, the social courtesy demands an exchange of good wishes and pleasantries. 
  3. Professional Etiquettes: The professional etiquettes demand a show of respect and civility towards our colleague or clients. These courtesies are the hallmark of a successful profession or an employee at the work place. It provides comforts and compassion towards fellow professionals, clients or colleagues. It also gives the ability to reach to the heart of the other person and creates a comfortable environment. It can be done not only by shaking or folding hands or saying good words but also by our body language and posture. The display of proper etiquettes can have an enormous effect on the outcome of the meetings.
  4. Religious Etiquettes: Religion and religious practices are very personal and its impact on a person’s life depends upon their education, maturity level, spiritual understanding, social and family background and personal belief. Hence no one can claim to be more or less religious and under the influence of ignorance or metal illiteracy, offend other person’s religion or faith.  Hence etiquette demands minimum courtesy in respecting each other’s beliefs.
  5. Diplomatic Etiquettes: or Protocols are rules which describe how an action or behavior between the two governments or their representatives should be performed. Protocols describe proper and generally accepted behavior related to the state and its diplomacy with other countries. It describes the receiving of international guests by their equivalent counterparts, how to greet them at the airport, ceremonies at the airport, how to escort them to the guest house, the dress codes, how to seat them on a dinner table, how to serve them, how to address them, who receives them for meetings, how to conduct meetings, who will escort them after the meeting etc. A slight mistake in diplomatic protocols or etiquettes may overturn the outcome or sour the relationships between the two countries.
Hence proper etiquettes are not only signs of civilization but also make an enormous impact on the social and psychological outcome. Performing proper etiquettes in one’s daily life may also bring peace, harmony and happiness with positive outcome. It may change foes into friends. Even if etiquettes are pretentious, they are far better than hurtful behaviors. The power of etiquettes may also change the perspective towards fellow human being. If this code of conduct is introduced into our education system and enforced to every students all over the world, then after a generation or two a time will come when planet earth will be the most peaceful and beautiful place in the universe to live.

Now being a professional, I will like to raise a question to our professional friends - how has etiquettes helped them in becoming a successful professional? Does it really make a difference in the outcome of their professional efforts?

Your comments and suggestion will certainly enlighten the minds of readers. Hence feel free to present your viewpoints please.

Suman Saran Sinha, CMC
Certified Management Consultant and
a pursuer of logical quest