Why Britain Should mind its Ps and Qs

Manners maketh man!

I found this on the BBC today, some thoughts on the etiquette and manners which appear to have all but disappeared. An example from only a few days ago…I was on a bus, some males in their late teens made a scrum on to the bus and one of them didn’t pay. The driver wouldn’t move the bus until they got off…so we sat for about 20 mins, eventually a heavily pregnant lady offered to pay but the driver wouldn’t accept, one male got off but he still wouldn’t move eventually everyone was telling him to get off and he did but that in my opinion is a typical snapshot of the lack of thought, etiquette and manners we can expect today…or is it!

“There is just incredible incivility in this country… people are rude to each other… public discourse is so bad mannered… we have come to assume and resign ourselves to the fact that civility is on a permanent and inevitable downward slide.”

So said David Cameron in 2007, echoing a widespread public view that Britain’s behaviour was indicative of a country careering headlong for hell in a handcart.

I do tend to agree, it does appear that people are ruder, short-tempered, impatient, the usual please and thank you seem to have disappeared.

Indeed a BBC poll a few months later suggested 83% of people thought the UK was suffering moral decline.

However the stand out points are the rudeness and lack of social skills but how often do we consider politeness and recall that?

But now along comes the Young Foundation, a social science think-tank, with a report that says such views are not only bunkum but dangerously counter-productive bunkum. Britain might see itself as rudeness central but when you ask about personal experience, sizeable majorities say they get treated with consideration and respect. Concerns about anti-social behaviour appear to be falling and when asked what is good about living in Britain, among the top answers are tolerance and politeness.

“Generalisations about declining standards of civility are inaccurate and problematic”, say the researchers. “While there are flashpoints of incivility, these tend to be contained to certain places or certain times. But in general Britain remains a well-mannered and courteous country. We still compare favourably to other developed nations.”

I tend to agree…alcohol plays a huge part and education appear to play a large part but this is nothing new. I can’t help wonder if the so-called ‘Chav’ class are any different to the underclass of Victorian society?

I guess one difference being that we don’t meet out the severest of punishments for small crimes and we don’t transport them to far-flung colonies. But with regards to education (and I take that to include understand health, manners, society, being part of it and productive) and all that it entails maybe there is a case to put forward…maybe something we might consider?

Golden era?

I can almost hear a nation harrumphing at this idea. Where on earth did these “researchers” do their “research”?

The answer is partly in one of the poorest and most diverse neighbourhoods in London’s East End; Queen’s market in Newham to be precise.

I don’t see how or why, I believe it is about education NOT poverty. Being poor does not mean you leave you manners at home, that is a result of ignorance.

“We observed how shoppers of a range of ethnicities queued patiently and stepped out-of-the-way of prams and elderly shoppers”, they noted.

They also travelled to relatively prosperous communities – Salisbury, Trowbridge and Frome – and recorded how “high levels of superficial civility… often hid deeper, covert incivilities” such as domestic violence, racism and prejudice against younger residents.

People were quick “to jump to conclusions about ‘spoilt’, ‘rowdy’, ‘rude’ and ‘intimidating’ young people”, they noted, while local youth complained about being “on the receiving end of uncivil behaviours”. Some spoke of behaving rudely to adults to “give them a taste of their own medicine”.

And that tit for tat attitude is what worries the Young Foundation team. Ultimately, they warn, such prejudices “can deter civil behaviour, as people are likely to live up to the negative generalisations”.

There are long-term trends which threaten to undermine good manners, the report says: busy lives in dense and transitory communities make civility harder and new technologies such as mobile phones and the internet have developed too fast for codes of acceptable behaviour to develop.

But the answer is not simply punitive sanction, the report concludes.

“If we want to tackle anti-social behaviour and build stronger communities in the long-term, a better balance is needed between tough talk from the top and local interventions based on understanding.”

The British, it seems to me, almost revel in a narrative of national decline. I have no doubt that many people will refuse to believe the central findings of today’s report on the basis that school-kids are often noisy on the bus or “someone was rude to me last Wednesday”.

As per my experiences at the top of the story.

There is an easy assumption that things were so much better in the past. As today’s report reminds readers, “in his 1983 classic, Hooligan, Geoffrey Pearson illuminates our tendency to constantly recall a golden era – typically 20 years earlier – where young people’s behaviour was better, crime lower and where civility flourished.”

The trouble with such views, usually based on anecdote rather than evidence, is that with manners and behaviour they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If people assume that the world is a rude, individualistic and selfish place, they are more likely to act that way themselves.

Well that is down to the media and press using bad new to spoon feed the public’s interest as it has done since the Victorian era. I would remove tabloids, gossip rags and crass reality shows and then we maybe we could make a start get back to some sort of civility.


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