The Obscene Joy Of Politeness

I used to own about eleven different firearms – from rifled muskets to revolvers to shotguns. There were bayonets and swords and spears and bows and arrows enough in the house to hold a regular historical reign of terror. Yet I never did – I found that none of the weapons ( and that is exactly what they were, despite the mealy-mouthing of the Sporting Shooters Association ) could cause as much accurate destruction as my books of etiquette.

Emily Post can hit harder than a 17 pounder gun. And you can turn her onto anyone – young, old, rich, or poor. She comes with impenetrable armour as well – you fight from a secure position.

Our nation has many rude people. Many crude people. Many people who use obscenity and bluster to dominate all conversations and exchanges. Yet none of them can do the slightest damage to a person who behaves in a gentlemanly or ladylike fashion consistently. Good form and good behaviour is a position from which one never need never resile. They carry the day.

But how can you do this in the face of rude behaviour? By behaving in precisely the same fashion as if the behaviour is polite. Or at least subject each circumstance, person, or conversation to a graded response:

a. If all is well, and the other people are polite, be cheerful, gracious, and friendly.

b. If the situation is well, but the others are cool or standoffish, still be polite. You need not strain cheer past the limits of grace.

c. If the encounter is rude, be civil. Civility is the bottom line of behaviour and can not be criticised later. Keep your responses and actions to those of a reasonable person – as defined in law – and you are safe from the law.

In all these three cases, you hold the upper hand with your response – you give or withhold as the circumstances demand, and if you always treat others better than they treat you, you are the moral victor.

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