An Encouraging Word – Is etiquette a thing of the past?

Father J. Ronald Knott

Father J. Ronald Knott

Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil. Give honor to all, love the community and fear God. I Peter 2:16,17

Every year, I take notice of the new words that have been added to the dictionary. Just in the last quarter of 2016, 500 new words were added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

I couldn’t find out how many words were deleted last year, but I have a suggestion to make — remove “etiquette.” The word even looks so old fashioned. Surely, its days are numbered. Etiquette is about as dead as Emily Post, a famous authority on the subject, who died in 1960.

Rather than its distortion, being excessively particular, critical, prissy and demanding, etiquette is about adjusting one’s behavior to a customary and expected code of societal behavior.

Etiquette is about making others feel comfortable and respected, with the expectation of reciprocity, so that people can live together in harmony. Without it, the social fabric of civilized society starts unraveling and the world becomes an unbearable nightmare of selfishness.

I have lived long enough to see a full turn of the wheel — from an exaggerated emphasis on communality to the detriment of individuality to now an exaggerated emphasis on individuality to the detriment of communality.

When I was growing up, people often sacrificed their individuality for the good of the community. People now see communality being sacrificed for the good of individuality.

There is an old Latin maxim that says “virtus stat in medio,” “virtue stands in the middle.” Truth stands somewhere in the middle between individuality and communality.

I detested much about the past when I was forced to sacrifice my individuality, but I also detest much today when I am forced to accept individuals’ disrespect for communality.

This is reflected in political partisanship. The truth of the matter is that we should seek neither independence nor dependence, but interdependence.

We will never settle down politically until we abandon the extremes and settle in that sane center. Individuals living in community require a code of conduct where rights and responsibilities are balanced.

People have a right to a cell phone, but other people have a right not to be forced to have to listen to them using it at the dinner table. That’s etiquette!

People have a right to wear whatever they want at home, but in public places other people have a right not to be forced to look at all they have hanging out. That’s etiquette!

People have a right to accept or reject invitations, but the inviter has a right to an RSVP instead of being left guessing or adapting things at the last minute to adjust to an unexpected or late arrival. That’s etiquette!

People have a right to accept or refuse gifts, but once accepted, the giver has a right to have his gift acknowledged. That’s etiquette!

If etiquette is the glue that holds communities together, then we are indeed coming unglued.

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