This article was written by Liberty Forrest and originally appeared in the Huffington Post UK.


I must have finally become officially “old.” And no doubt that over the last few decades, my father would have been tearing out his silky grey hair and pounding on the arm of his chair at the appalling and gradual slide away from good manners that seems to be “the norm” around the world.

It drove my father nuts when “Insolent young punks!” sauntered slowly through a crosswalk while he waited behind the steering wheel, clenching his teeth and probably wanting to mow down the little brats, or wearing caps or hats indoors, or answering a question in something resembling a grunt… These used to send him round the bend and I didn’t understand why.

But as I have watched our world deteriorate into poor manners and inappropriate familiarity, I can certainly understand it now.

What I find most disturbing is that the future of our world is being left in the hands of a generation that doesn’t always comprehend even the simplest and most basic rules of etiquette and particularly in the workplace.
Maria Doll of Leadership Matters says that this is especially difficult for “millennials”. They have grown up in a world where screens replace people and where words and a growing list of acronyms replace human contact. Millennials are adept at using the latest social media platforms “…but social scientists are saying that the more we’re on our screens…our level of empathy decreases,” says Doll.

She adds that not only do we lack empathy, we are also demonstrating a growing lack of situational awareness, not even noticing people in need. In recent years, an increasing number of people have made the same complaint, such as in February 2014 when the Daily Mail reported that a 40-year-old woman who was five months pregnant fell ill on a London train. Despite her growing and obvious distress, not one of her fellow passengers would give up a seat for her, not even when she was forced to sit on the floor.

No matter how I look at this, I cannot find any possible understanding of how common decency in our society has deteriorated to such a shocking state as this.

As a “stay-home Mum”, Doll ran a little girls’ club once a month, offering snacks and drinks while the girls listened to an invited speaker. Doll was more than just a little surprised by the lack of manners shown by many of the girls. “They wouldn’t even thank the speakers. I would have to ask them, ‘Now what do you say?’ when the speaker was finished.”

She adds, “They just didn’t seem to know how to help clean up. For example, if we had a baking session, they’d be lounging on the couch while I was cleaning up the kitchen. I just started to feel a sense of civility in our society is generally decreasing.” This led to her teaching etiquette classes for children between the ages of 8 and 14.

It doesn’t help that we have had plenty of leaders who have done some appalling and/or supremely embarrassing things without giving any thought to the consequences. How many Bill Clinton jokes have you heard? How many tales of childish (and worse) behaviour by Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper? Or what about former Secretary of State for Wales, John Redwood’s unbelievably terrible – or hilarious? – attempt at miming the lyrics to the Welsh national anthem?

If we can no longer count on middle-aged men to be inspiring leaders, what hope have we got with politicians who are in their 20s? Scotland’s youngest MP is just 25 years old, although she seems sensible enough that I doubt she will do anything to embarrass herself.

Recently, Alberta appointed several young MLAs with Deborah Drever, 26, causing a significant stir with extremely offensive Facebook photos involving marijuana, violence against women, and one in which someone was giving the Canadian flag “the finger”. We can only pray her young colleagues are more sensible and well-mannered.

Doll’s parting words of advice for basic good manners: “Don’t eat on the phone. Always smile and be pleasant, no matter how bad your day is. Always shake hands at the beginning and end of each meeting. Look interested; don’t roll your eyes and look bored. Be respectful. Dress appropriately. Being on time means arriving 5-10 minutes early. And no texting or phone-checking. In meetings of any kind, always give your undivided attention.”

Sadly, too many people in the world today could use this advice. And I fear there will be many others ahead.



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