- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2007

The nation is pining for good manners and civility.

We are weary of rude media and crude entertainment; we mourn the demise of respect for elders, country, school, traditions, family. Our public life suffers: Children, cell-phone users and aggressive drivers caterwaul without check. Advertising showcases and rewards the trite and the cruel.

In stunning displays that would have dumbfounded previous generations, journalists sass the White House even as their prose devolves into drivel and schadenfreude. Our clueless politicians have abandoned the decorum of their office in favor of petty one-liners.

Heavens. Somebody get out Emily Post’s Guide to Etiquette — the original 1922 version, please — and maybe a little crystal bowl of Jordan almonds upon a doily. We shall strike a proper pose, speak in mellifluous tones and discuss this disturbing phenomenon like, uh, reasonable adult humanoids.

The truth is that psychologists, sociologists, historians and even anthropologists have linked the coarsening of culture with dangerous underpinnings. Boorishness and impertinence can escalate into criminal behavior, cruelty, aggression.

At this dicey time in our history, we not only have moral imperatives, we have manner imperatives. Americans need to be nice to each other because psychologists, sociologists, historians and even anthropologists have linked civilized behavior with such greater goods as unity, tolerance and productivity.

Take heart in the fact that our churlish culture is due for the firm push of protocol, delivered by an iron fist in a white glove. The Age of Rude is waning.

Mrs. Post is not just an authoress of sterling repute. Nay, nay. There is a whole Emily Post Institute, established by three polite but savvy descendants. In the past five years, they have published 17 books on manners for men, women, children, brides, couples, twentysomethings and businesspeople. They have a speakers bureau, a consulting group and six assorted magazine columns.

The modern-day Posts are not skittish. They address distinctly 21st-century etiquette issues such as breast-feeding in public, public drunkenness, children screaming in four-star restaurants, weddings with extended families and whether men should put down the toilet seat.

In his book “Essential Manners for Men,” Peter Post — great-grandson of Emily — offers a three-page rationale for skeptical males who might believe the position of the seat has little impact in the real world.

“Put the seat down when you’re done. It’s a manners issue, yes. But it’s also a safety and hygiene issue,” Mr. Post said in a recent interview, explaining that he has given the same advice to male and female employees who share a common restroom at work.

Others have taken up the clarion call for gentlemen. Etiquette books published for men alone include “How to Be a Gentleman,” “The Gentleman’s Guide to Life,” “The Modern Gentleman,” “A Little Book of Manners for Boys,” “How to Raise a Gentleman,” “Stand Up, Shake Hands, Say ‘How Do You Do,’ ” and “Rules of Civility for the 21st Century,” published by the Boy Scouts and based on social graces recommended by George Washington.

Meanwhile, pollsters and marketeers are noticing this newfound hunger for propriety — and are perhaps taken aback with the discovery that rudeness doesn’t necessarily sell. The citizenry is fatigued with political sniping, mannerless fast food, directionless conversation. This growing trend means Americans may not buy products, watch programs or read material that supports erosive vulgarity.

Earlier this year, an Ohio State University survey found enough people disenchanted with strident partisan rudeness among politicians to inspire the researchers to create a whole new demographic: the “timid voter.” These disengaged, disinterested voters — up to 25 percent of us — want little to do with officials who lack civility.

Meanwhile, a landmark Public Agenda survey found that 84 percent of us think lack of respect is a “serious” national problem. An equal number said self-control and self-discipline are essential for children, while two-thirds said youngsters always should address their elders as “Ma’am” or “Sir.”

Polls from U.S. News & World Report, Good Housekeeping and ABC News also found that at least eight out of 10 people were deeply concerned about the lack of simple courtesy in our society.

But wait. Good manners influence romance, according to a Social Life survey from the Emily Post Institute. Women are repelled by men “failing to open doors, showing up late, swearing, ‘adjusting’ themselves in public, not saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and spitting.” They also recoil from men who eat sloppily, noisily or too fast or who talk with their mouths full.

Oh, and by the way. Get out your party hats — the dignified ones. Tomorrow marks the beginning of National Business Etiquette Week, established by the Protocol School of Washington to “spotlight and reverse the decline in business etiquette, and help professionals behave with more civility.”

So behave. Please. Thank you.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and directionless conversation for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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