I have a nutty theory. Well, in the interests of truth in journalism I should admit to having several nutty theories but this particular one is a theory for how to fix the world. And it’s dead simple, too: one minor adjustment, one tiny tweak, one small effort from all, and presto! A fixed-up world.
At the heart of this nutty theory is this: good manners. I really do believe that’s all it would take. If we all would remember our manners, mind our p’s and q’s, the world would be a decent place and we’d all get along tickety boo.
I think I’m on to something here. The Holy Father just encouraged us to not mock another man’s religion or to speak ill of his mother. What do those two behaviours have in common? Bad manners!
Lest you think my tongue is in my cheek or that I’m minimizing the complexity of the issues we face, I hasten to assure you of my sincerity. I really do believe that if only we could remember our manners in crowded elevators, in long queues at the grocery store, traffic jams, online comment boxes, talk show panels, and Op Ed pieces, the chances are better than fair that we’d also behave better when negotiating treaties, planning military maneuvers, and setting corporate policies.
Unfortunately, manners have taken a back seat to freedom of expression. Using an example from current events, I believe that if we valued good manners as highly as we do free speech, we’d have far better sense when drawing and then publishing editorial cartoons. We’d realize it’s in very bad taste to print cartoons such as those that came from Charlie Hebdo over the years. It’s too bad that the “I am Charlie” movement isn’t about letting another person go ahead of you on the highway, or addressing the idea instead of attacking the speaker (or writer) in conversations and debates. I support the Charlies inasmuch that I believe we have the right to express our opinions and beliefs. But I also believe that rights come with responsibilities, and our responsibility when expressing ourselves is to use good judgement and to mind our manners.
There is nothing mannerly in denigrating religion or mocking another’s faith. There is no civility in spreading gossip, or tossing cheap insults at perfect strangers online, or belittling someone’s political affiliation. Being well-mannered means having consideration for others – their dignity, their well-being. It means being kind. In fact, good manners help us grow in virtue, for they demand of us that we practice temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. Good manners, essentially, are expressions of love. And love can fix the world.
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