Civility, manners, and communications has, for obvious reasons, become a hot topic. We have a president who insults people in front of the entire world and a lot of people apparently believe it’s okay. Of course, some of these people also believe the same idiot blowhard is the next messiah, so I figure I can discount their opinion.

We talk about manners vanishing and sometimes that feels true. How many people are clueless about what’s appropriate? Do they know when it’s fine to be casual — and when it’s not?

This is pretty much a no-brainer for my generation. It’s not that we’re so smart, but we were raised differently. We grew up when there were clear rules about social behavior. There were fairly rigid standards for professional communications. Nobody had to tell us how to talk to superior officers and bosses. We learned this stuff watching others. We learned it at home, in our friends’ homes. We even learned it on television.

Cover of "The Graduate"

We called our teachers “Mr. or Mrs. Whatsyourname.” That’s also how we addressed our friends’ moms and how our friends addressed our parents. That’s how we addressed everyone older than us.

It’s one of the funny parts of watching “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman. He may be sleeping with Mrs. Robinson, but he never calls her by her first name. That would be impolite.

The next generation had its own set of rules. They didn’t believe they needed to respect their elders simply because they were elders. Or bosses or teachers. They heard a different message: everyone is equal.

Happy New Year and let’s hear it for more of the same!

The thing is, we are unbelievably far from all being equal. It’s not only about race or ethnicity, color or sex, although these issues factor in. Dig a little deeper and it’s about money and power. Which is what it has been about since history began. That’s how society really works.

In my generation, we all knew this before we left high school. You don’t treat your boss like your buddy. It has nothing to do with whether or not your boss deserves your respect. It’s nice if he or she does, but In the course of a building a career the odds favor your working for any number of people who are unworthy of your respect.

As long as they sign your paycheck, you treat them with respect, tact, and care. Not only does your salary depend on it, so does your reputation and any future career moves you plan. Your boss may be the biggest asshole you’ve ever met, but you don’t say so.

Filling in the forms

If you’re smart, you don’t say it behind his or her back either because another rule of the real world is what you say will get back to whoever you said it about. Those chickens always come back to roost, every damned time.

You will need all the goodwill and recommendations you can get as you fight your way through the working world. Don’t squander it. Don’t blow your world up by gossiping, backbiting, and behaving like a brat.

To people my age, all this stuff was obvious, that all men may have been created equal, but after being born, some are much more equal than others. No one had to tell us not to start a memo to the boss with “Yo, Bossman!”

Looking for work?

We knew that. We knew who had the power and who didn’t. We knew when to fight and when to duck and cover. We knew we needed to earn our way and had to behave professionally.

But kids who aren’t kids anymore don’t seem to get it. Unsurprisingly, neither do their kids. I don’t understand what they don’t understand.

Do you? Maybe they’ve been watching too much news and have a bad case of Trumpitis.

Categories: civility, Education, Friendship, Marilyn Armstrong, Reality

Tags: , , , , , , ,

18 replies

  1. I noticed this when I was studying at an adult education college. I was the eldest person in the class at 50. The majority were in the 18-25 age group. Apart from the fact that they were nearly all unable to spell and needed help to compose a business letter, there were quite a few who just didn’t follow what I felt was etiquette for work. They were asked not to use the college internet for Facebook but most of them did. They brought their phones into class. The teachers were fine with people taking calls that were job-related but these kids would be answering texts from their friends right in the middle of a class. I felt it was rude, especially when we were working in small groups. I wondered if they thought that their bosses would tolerate this when they got jobs. At the end of the course when we were asked to give feedback to the group I mentioned that I had found the practice distracting and wondered how the ones who did it could concentrate on the phone and what was being discussed at the same time. I was being polite but I felt that not only was that behaviour disrespectful to the group but would not be looked on favourably by bosses in the real world. Maybe the real world has changed. I don’t know. I think it has got so widespread now that maybe you just can’t stop it. Still, I was quite shocked that these young people knew so little about how to behave at work. It might sound very old fashioned but I think when you start a new job you should “know your place”. You might have lots of ideas and opinions but you should respect the boss and more senior colleagues and follow the rules. When you have established yourself and people know you better you can relax a bit and start to contribute more. That’s always been my way anyway. Find out how the staff do things and why first, then make suggestions for change later when I know what I’m talking about. When I was young I called all adults Mr or Mrs unless they were the ones you were allowed to call aunt or uncle. Aussies tend to be casual in the workplace but unless the boss has given permission you don’t use first names or talk to him or her like a mate IMHO.


    • I agree. Most of these kids discover soon enough that they can’t get the job, much less keep one until they get a grip on professional conduct. It takes kids longer than it used to grow up. They stay longer with parents, find it harder to find work that pays enough to even give them a chance of moving out … and many of them don’t really WANT to move out. Their parents live a lot better than they could, after all ANd mom does the laundry and cooks, too.

      And and and — they aren’t hard workers. Even when they get a chance, they aren’t willing to give that little extra effort it takes to really “make it.” That’s an American problem too. Immigrants work. Americans complain.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t get it! I realize all you’ve said is true especially the “respect” thing. Still, my kids were taught to respect others and that boundaries were in place for a reason. Yet I see that having gone by the wayside and the kids they are spawning (my kids’ generation of kids) are so rude and ignorant. They push you out of their way if your walking beside them, push ahead of you, shut doors in your face when your just feet behind them, it’s truly astounding! Very few are willing to go the extra mile (ok, millisecond mile) and do that little bit extra that makes life easier all around. “It’s not my job!” “Why can’t you do it?” I hear it regularly in grocery stores or elsewhere for that matter. Rude ignorant behaviour has become the norm and I find myself absolutely shocked when it is otherwise. Now that’s a horrific comment on society but true!


    • Here are my thoughts on that. We bring them up right, but in their teens, their contemporaries have far more influence than we do. However, as they round the corner into their early 20s, they come back more towards what we expect of them and by the time they hit their mid-twenties, they’re pretty close to humans. They are developing slower than we did probably because they stay home longer, have a harder time finding viable work — and they aren’t hard workers either which is a serious problem. Other than our vile president, teenagers are typically rude little bastards, but mostly, if they were brought up in a civilized home, they do grow out of it.


  3. Manners are the thin veneer of civil society. It can make day to day activities go so much more pleasantly.


  4. I think every generation is confounded by the generation before them. It is a never ending cycle. I came to that conclusion after reading this quote:
    “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room.”

    It was written by Socrates around 400 BC. Disrespect and morality and work ethic are all colored by the lens we wear. What to one person is a common decency may be absolutely nothing to another. It is in our difference that we find strength.

    What did the adults of the generation believe about you when you were young? Perhaps it was true. Perhaps it was not. What did you believe of them? Were they stuffy? Transfixed to an idea of what life and society were supposed to be? Either way, it doesn’t really matter. The divide between generations is seen by those who want there to be a divide. Our kids were not created in a bubble. They were created and grew in the same society that houses us and everyone.

    I enjoyed your post immensely because it really made me start to think about my own generational biases (of which I also have many). Mine exist more for the generation before me than below me. But you caused me to question myself. If I believe what I just wrote to you, I have some serious work to do. Thanks again. This was great!


    • I worry because some of them don’t really have a grip on the difference between home and work. They don’t know how to dress for an interview, for example. They never learned the manners necessary to at least be polite for the first few weeks of work so they have a chance to prove their worth. Many of them learn it later, probably after they blow a few interviews and can’t figure out what they did wrong. My mother was way ahead of me politically, but way behind me socially … but we were both polite and generally civil.

      We had significant disagreements about what I could do. I knew my mother did a lot more than I did. She was a lot freer than I was. I thought she was something of a hypocrite as far as I was concerned. I don’t think these were generational differences. They were differences, for sure, but they could have been between any parent and child at any time.

      As my granddaughter has gotten older, she has learned the manners she lacked when she was younger. Now, if only the whole work ethic would show up. I don’t know if it’s generational or just her, but there’s a kind of laziness, an unwillingness to put out that extra bit of effort when needed. Maybe that’s just personal. It’s hard to tell. I don’t see a lot of people her age these days.


  5. I’ve watched the phenomenon unfold and I still remain stunned it ever got so bad. My generation may be responsible for some of it – we were the ‘me’ generation (apparently) and had less regard for our elders than your generation or the one before and so on. But we still knew when to shut the eff up and treat someone with care (if not respect). It was merely common sense not to diss the boss. Maybe that’s the thing that’s lacking most – common sense. I have a nephew who epitomizes the phenomenon. He doesn’t want to settle, hops around from job to job, and dabbles in school (college). He has no motivation apparently, and I know first-hand just where that leads and it ain’t a good end. I hope he grows up and starts caring about respecting his elders and learns that even though the other person is an asshole, his own welfare is at stake if he challenges them. Some hope though, huh?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe common sense isn’t so common. We didn’t need to be taught to shut up when talking to the guy who signed the paychecks. it wasn’t manners. it was wanting to get PAID and maybe even, who knows, get ahead professionally. I wasn’t afraid of the individual person, but I was cautious about what mouthing off could cost me long term. I think maybe the concept of “long term” has temporarily abandoned many youngsters. Everything is very now-ish.

      Your nephew sounds just like my granddaughter. It’s rather heartbreaking to watch. They have the intelligence and often the talent to do something, but not the willingness to do the work.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Agree. On the other hand, and I don’t think it’s entirely bad, ppl are more relaxed in their interactions. We are renting a new place and the first two persons we encountered presented themselves by their Christian names. That’s OK for us even though we are way older (maybe we were flattered? 😉 – whatever…)
    Liked the film The Graduate. Must have bought it ‘then’ because of a young Dustin H. Anne Bancroft was great too.


    • Socially, I don’t care how people behave as long as they aren’t being outright offensive. But we all need to know the difference between business and just hanging out. If you don’t know the difference, it’s pretty hard to keep a job. Or even GET a job.


  7. Maybe! It could either be that or a case of burying their heads in sand, pretending what the think is right and not the actual reality.


  8. Amen

    What is popularly called ‘snarky’ now, we called rude. In my book it still is.


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