Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Talk to the Hand

I think it's fair to say that society has changed a lot in the last hundred years. We have technologies that our ancestors couldn't have been imagined, and the way we dress couldn't be more different. And hey, the word "society" doesn't even mean what it used to. Our language has changed significantly, and our behaviors have changed too. These changes have brought about great things like civil rights, suffrage, and the end of the old rigid class system; but we've lost a lot of good things in the transition as well.

A while ago I read a book called Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. It's essentially a rant about the loss of manners in the modern world by Lynne Truss, one of my favorite British writers, and I'm going to let her help me explain what I'm talking about.
"The utter bloody rudeness of the world today is about a lot of things... but I think what most dismays many honourable people is the way 'deference' has become a dirty little demeaning word, while its close relative 'respect' has become a cool street-crime buzz-word mainly associated with paying feudal obeisance to those in possession of firearms. Both words have lost their true meaning. Deference is not about lying down and letting someone put their foot on your head. It is not about kow-tow. It is about assessing what is due to other people on all sorts of grounds...
The crying shame about modern rudeness is that it's such a terrible missed opportunity for a different kind of manners--manners based, for the first time, not on class and snobbery, but on a kind of voluntary charity that dignifies both the giver and the receiver by being a system of mutual respect."
I've often thought that one reason it's so difficult to express your feelings when someone is grieving is that we simply don't use the right kind of language for it anymore. We don't say things like, "my condolences" in everyday speech, and maybe we don't try because we feel pretentious. But how much more simple would it be if people could just express their feelings without worrying about what words are acceptable?

I may have mentioned a book called The Four Agreements on this blog before, and in reference to this issue I've been trying to apply a principle from that book that says, "be impeccable with your word." One of the definitions of this is to "use your energy in the direction of truth and love;" to me, it means a few things:
  • that I don't say things I don't mean
  • that I am kind and careful with my words, because words have a lot of power and I do not want to use that power to hurt anyone
  • and, perhaps most of all, that I am honest about my feelings, and don't worry about what other people will think of them
Sometimes I think I was affected by public school more than I should have been. What I mean is that when I meet someone who is obviously not included in others' social groups, I still feel the temptation to avoid them myself; when I remember someone's birthday or college major or something they once told me about their mom, I want to pretend that I don't because it feels more cool to be aloof. I'm learning to stop this.

The world would be a much lovelier place if people could learn to respect each other and speak with kindness instead of cynicism. Life would be so much more pleasant if we could learn to express ourselves simply and honestly, and remember the manners our mothers taught us.


Megan B. said...

I agree. I always mess up though. I wish I could read this reminder daily.

Megan B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ladydazy said...

I really like the book, The four Agreements. These are great reminders!!!

ladydazy said...

I also really like how you wrote that you are careful with your words, because words have a lot of power and that you don't want to use that power to hurt anyone. I do think this takes practice, like saying the right words to those that have lost loved ones. My mother passed away and before her passing people said and did so many crazy things. I had to forgive them and move on. I realized that they were doing the best they could with the skills they have to communicate about sickness and death. Also, many don't relate to what you are going through until it happens to themselves (sadly, that's human nature). So for Meagan B. it takes practice. I myself say and do the wrong things so I should forgive others who do the same so that others will forgive me too. :)

Nicole said...

cynicism. it is everywhere! it strips us of loving and caring for others.

Book Geek (AKA ChibiNeko) said...

I completely agree with this. I can understand some rudeness to a point, but people are just so incredibly impolite & downright cruel to people that it honestly makes me want to cry sometimes.