Call me old fashioned but I wonder if we are living in a time when we need to see a return to good old manners. I say this as an observer of an increasingly disrespectful society. Why the increase in disrespect, I am unsure. Perhaps the failures of those we should respect has made us so. Could it be our lives have become so consumed by ourselves that we have little time for manners? Is a, so called, time poor culture the problem or a culture of entitlement the cause?
Are these the things that prevent a thank you, keep us from opening a door for another, prevent us from listening to one another and prove to be a pathway to worse depravity? Are these the things that make for loud and violent protests that block streets, that has people send faeces in a box to one’s local member, write “paedophile” across the forehead of the guiltless, pull down signs and stab people with cork screws. Then there are those who shout and shut down opposing voices, slam eggs on politicians and express disapproval in vile language.
In a world where we have put people on the moon, where we can make an artificial heart, create electric cars, use wind and solar to create power, is it possible that we could find a better mannered approach to living with one another? Is it time for a change and is it possible for people to change? Or is all this just another environmental scare, a global overheating that we are ignoring?
In the 18th century William Wilberforce embarked upon a campaign of “reformation of manners”. What Wilberforce meant by that little expression “reformation of manners” was not to do with etiquette but what he called “habits” or “attitudes” which had a distinctly moral aspect to them. He never intended a puritanical approach but wished to bring civility and self-respect into a society that was spiralling down into all kinds of vice. Wilberforce was at the time concerned about the large number of death sentences for serious crimes and believed that if people were punished for small crimes they would be less likely to drift into more serious crimes. When people have learnt how to be honourable and trustworthy in little things then it’s likely they will follow suit in larger things.
I have to wonder if Wilberforce’s commitment to the reformation of manners played a foundational role in the abolition of slavery, the ending of bull baiting for entertainment, his involvement in the establishment of the RSPCA and his commitment to save young girls and women from a life of prostitution. Our habits and attitudes impact the civility of our society and our respect for life whether human or animal. Our manners in the smallest things are important to all things.
As someone has said, “A dead fish rots from the head first.” Is a reformation of manners something the heads of families, schools, businesses, churches, politicians and political groups need to take seriously? The reformation of manners needs to begin with the leader but in the absence of such reformation our society will fall into deeper depravity. It is staggering to consider what Wilberforce accomplished in the 18th century without the vitriol, crudity and depravity which we see becoming common in our own times.I personally will take my lead from Jesus Christ who said the second greatest command of God was to love my neighbour as myself. That requires a significant commitment to good manners but the outcome is worth it. I always believe you achieve more through good than wickedness.