Etiquette Made Easy

Carroll County Times, April 1, 2007

by Diane Reynolds.

Mount Airy — In a role-playing exercise, Taylor Johnson dropped her book on the floor and Lindsay Sier helped her pick it up. Taylor said, “Thank you,” and Lindsay said “You’re welcome.”
It’s basic courtesy, but too few are learning it, according to people ranging from Judith Martin, also known as Miss Manners, to the average Joes weighing in on as to why etiquette has declined in contemporary culture. 
In an afterschool program at Mount Airy Middle School, the International School of Protocol of Baltimore is stepping into the gap to teach students how to lead a well-mannered life.
“It’s really nice to pick things up for people,” said teacher Carol Haislip during a recent etiquette class.
“The definition of etiquette … is looking outside of yourself,” she said. “If you think of other people first, you will have good manners.”

The students interjected their own thoughts. Seventh-grader Joseph Mullen, whose father suggested he take the etiquette class, talked about having to go to the guidance office because another student teased him.
“If someone calls you names … should you stoop to their level?” Haislip asked. “No, it makes you no better than they are.”
Good manners are the opposite of self-absorption, Haislip said. They mean noticing when somebody is struggling to carry a package, is standing alone at a party or can’t find a seat on the bus.
While it might be easier not to see what’s happening around you, she said, it’s not going to win you friends or respect.
In contrast, the person who helps stands out in the crowd.

In the class, Haislip ventured beyond the underlying philosophy of good manners to reinforce some basic rules.
Always introduce the person who is older or higher rank first. Have a firm handshake and look the person you are meeting in the eye. Say something beyond “Hi.”
Stand when an older person enters the room.
Haislip told her students that it would impress their friends’ parents if they rose and said hello when the parent came in.
Older people deserve respect. That’s non-negotiable.
Help your parents out around the house before they ask you to.

Jonathan Vette said that while he might not want to do the dishes, he knows his parents would be glad if he did.
Katie Leyton said she already helps by bringing in the recycling bin.
The problem is, said Juli Debnam, if you help once, your parents might expect it all the time.
That’s OK, Haislip said. Do it anyway. How do you think your parents will view you if you’re helpful.

What happened?
From experts to laymen, people have theories about what’s caused the decline of civility in our culture.
Cathleen Hanson, co-director with Haislip of the International School of Protocol, attributed much of it to social changes of the 1960s and 1970s.
The feminist movement, while overall a good thing, she said, redefined social codes. It allowed women to wear slacks and take formerly male-only jobs, but in the process of challenging old norms, it meant manners sometimes got lost.
Parents in the 1960s and '70s were often so preoccupied with their changing roles that teaching old-fashioned etiquette to their children got pushed aside.
Today, television plays a part in the decline of manners.
“Before, we saw models of appropriate social nuances,” Hanson said. “[but] now the media present people in a lot of different ways.”
The Internet hurts too, she said. As people communicate more online, they lose the ability to interact well face to face.
On Yahoo, however, people offered not cyberspace but poor parenting, lack of discipline, post-World War II prosperity leading people to become spoiled, and an inability to express anger appropriately as contributing to the decline in etiquette.
As a result of the decline, parents and businesses want etiquette training for their children and employees, Hanson said.

A former college communications professor, Hanson became interested in manners, she said, when she noticed her students were increasingly less respectful and lacking in social skills.
She began to wonder if her students could present themselves well enough to get jobs and move ahead. So she became an advocate for manners.
“If you hold the door for others, you give a gift that costs nothing,” she said. “People who put others first will be noticed for all the right reasons.”