The San Francisco Chronicle editorial on good manners

Campaigns and elections are upon us and I am irresistibly drawn to reading, listening to, and watching stories about the caucuses and debates. That said, election years, whether they are about local mayoral campaigns, national presidential elections or something in between, can be both appalling and puzzling, as ambition and passion overtake the candidates and their supporters, and good manners are cast aside.

Manners are another form of how we correspond or communicate with one another. Unfortunately, this year’s name-calling has reached a whole new level of vitriol, with ridiculing the opposing candidates growing with each exchange. Among the many insulting epithets being hurled about are liar, idiot, cheat, whiner, loser, stupid, and worse.  And these are all words used by a single candidate. In another dark moment, young women were promised a special place in hell if they did not support a specific female candidate.

Lack of good manners is certainly not limited to politicians. The losing quarterback in this year’s Super Bowl could not have been more ungracious or sullen in a live on-air interview. “What do you want me to say?” he asked scornfully before walking away. When challenged on his complete lack of good manners, he said, “Show me a good loser and I will show you a loser.”

The San Francisco Chronicle recently took on the issue of poor manners in side-by-side editorials titled “What ever happened to magic words?” Editorial page editor John Diaz wrote about the demise of the word “please.” “Somewhere along the line, the word please became a pejorative,” he wrote. “Oh, please.” When did the word start to disappear from our dialogue? “Was it a general breakdown of comity and etiquette in our society?”

The other side of the column, by National Football League analyst Amy Trask, is titled “The lost art of saying thank you.” The fact is,” she wrote, “it is not hard to say thank you. It costs nothing and takes virtually no time.” And yet these also are magic words that are used far too infrequently.

One of my own pet peeves is related to the failure to respond to an invitation for a suggested meeting, dinner engagement or other social occasion. Apparently, ignoring an invitation is today’s equivalent of saying “no.” Since most such invitations are made via e-mail, I fail to understand why a simple response is so difficult. “Sorry, but I have a conflict that day. Can we make it another time?” Seriously, that took only seconds, less than a minute to write.

A year ago I was deeply engaged in helping manage my daughter’s wedding, and wedding etiquette became an issue of prominence in my day-to-day life. There were protocols to be followed: timing the ordering the invitations, how to address the recipients, the proper way of inserting the interior card and envelope, the purpose and placement of that little wisp of tissue paper and more.   And all of that was just the beginning. But I’m happy to say, most people responded in the appropriate manner.

The process reminded me of why good manners never go out of style. As a fan of the works of Jane Austen, as well as Dear Abby, Miss Manners and the Social Q’s column in the New York Times written by Philip Galanes, I have a long time interest in social etiquette. But now I realize that good manners go beyond etiquette. Good manners stem from having respect for one another.

Bad manners as demonstrated in the current presidential campaign have not been lost on the media. The New York Times columnist and commentator David Brooks, a conservative who is not philosophically in alignment with the current administration, recently wrote a column titled I Miss Barack Obama. “… over the course of this campaign it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board.”

“He’s exuded this basic care and respect for the dignity of others time and time again….Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him,” wrote Brooks.

So let us all do our part to restore respect by demonstrating our good manners, and expect that our heroes and leaders do the same. Please.


The Demise of the Word Please by John Diaz. The San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 27, 2016

Donald Trump and His Name Calling by Michael Russnow. The Huffington Post, Aug. 9, 2016

I Miss Barak Obama by David Brooks. The New York Times, Feb. 9, 2016

The Lost Art of Thank You by Amy Trask. The San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 29, 2016

Republican debate: Raised voices, name calling and personal attacks by Sean Sullivan. The Washington Post, Feb. 13, 2016



This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. As a young man growing up in the South I was taught at a very early age the importance of good manners and how it would serve me well through my life. I remember being taught to say “magic words” like thank-you, please. pardon me and we were taught to ask to leave the table and always we were required to address anyone older than us as “Mr.” or “Mrs”. Through my life I have actually been ridiculed for those values but I would never abandon them even through the harshest of looks or stares. What happened to someone acknowledging good manners as well? When someone steps aside to open a door all you need to say is “thank you” of if you walk in front of someone a simple “excuse me” is all it takes. I too was so bothered by the quarterback that acted so terribly and I really do understand his disappointment but all he had to say was “it was an honor to play the game with a future Hall of Fame player and he played a great game and I hope I get a chance to play against him again!”. A missed moment that will haunt him at some future point I am sure.

    Thank you for always being the gracious person you are and for writing this post at a time where we all need to be reminded about how we treat one another.

    1. Ed, surely you have taught me the importance of always being gracious, courteous and kind. Thank you!

  2. Hear, hear! I too really appreciated David Brooks’ column about President Obama’s character and style.

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