A Plea For a Return to Decency

Sad Clown

At the outset, I realize that this particular post is a bit of an odd one.  It will be even more strange once I get through with it.  I think it may come off more like a rant than anything I’ve previously published on this site.

I’d like to talk about manners and humility, and their almost total absence from today’s society.  In a world filled with “Marketing Gurus” and “CSS Experts” and “Code Wizards”, humble people seem in short supply.  I realize that the actual meanings of most of the words that are thrown around today in describing one’s proficiency have been so diluted as to bear almost no resemblance to what they used to mean.  But, it’s frustrating to someone who was raised to not toot his own horn.

I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while, but it’s become even more evident to me now that I have a son of my own.  I’m trying to raise him the way I was raised, and I’ve come to see that a lot of the manners I was taught (don’t wear a hat in a building, for instance, or requiring children to address adults as “Mr. or Mrs. Whatever”) aren’t in vogue any more.  I now look back and realize that I might have been one of the only kids when I was growing up who practiced these habits.  Since people of my age weren’t taught them, they’re certainly not teaching them to their kids, right?

Another thing: children today are being raised in a society that no longer condones failure as a learning experience.  We wrap our kids up in padding, never allowing them to skin a knee or stub a toe.  Parents hover over them at all times, catching them as they slip and praising them for every little thing they do.  At the end of the season, we’ve not kept track of winning and losing, so no one knows who the best players were.  We’ll just give everyone a trophy.  This results in a “me, too” attitude and an unfair sense of entitlement.

Programs in our public schools contribute to teaching to the slowest children in the class, rather than to the smartest (or even to the average).  We train our children how to take tests, rather than assimilate knowledge, draw conclusions, and develop synergies.  We focus on outcomes, rather than processes, and are stunned when kids graduate from high school barely knowing how to read.

All of these factors contribute to a lack of understanding that life isn’t teed up for you like a baseball.  Real life has curves and sliders and even an occasional knuckleball.  It’s not always going to be as easy as you’ve been led to believe, and (gasp!) you might not be as good at everything as your mom told you you were.

I read on a daily basis articles about “building your personal brand”, that tell me to brag on myself and my accomplishments.  “If you don’t,” they ask me “who will?”  How is a young person supposed to stand out from an ever-growing crowd of job seekers, vying for an HR representative’s attention if they don’t shout their skills from the rooftops?

Whatever happened to developing relationships with people built on trust?  On paying your dues and giving away a quality effort to demonstrate that you knew what you’re doing?  When did we become so self-centered that we’re not looking out for our friends, but instead are willing to step over or on anyone who isn’t in a position to directly influence our careers?

I know that not everyone is like this.  There are some people out there who still are looking for ways to help people achieve what they’re looking for, rather than advancing their own agenda.  The reason they stand out to me is because that’s the way I was raised, and because it seems like there are so few other people out there who were.

I was raised to believe that winning and losing were important, because it gave you a marker of excellence to strive for.  I wasn’t told that I’d done okay when I really hadn’t.  I was told that there are standards in life and that I needed to live up to them if I wanted to succeed.  I was told to do things for other people without them knowing, or at the very least, not broadcasting them for everyone to hear.  Humility, concern for others, and good manners were the rules of the home I grew up in.  Narcissism, rudeness, and brashness were not.

I’m not entirely sure what I hope to accomplish with this post.  I don’t really have any spectacular ideas on how to combat this trend, other than it’s up to each and every one of us.  We all can take stock of how we live our daily lives, and determine that we need to be on the lookout for people who aren’t speaking up for themselves.  Perhaps those are the people that we need to recognize, rather than the ones that scream the loudest or wear the flashiest clothes.  I want my son to have more than just my wife and I for an example of how people are supposed to treat other people, and how one is supposed to present onesself to those around them.

Now all you kids better get off my lawn, or I’m calling the police.

What about you?  Am I way off base here?  Are “the old ways” of doing things not worth much in today’s society for a reason?  Let me have it in the comments…

Photo courtesty: Mel B.

8 thoughts on “A Plea For a Return to Decency”

  1. For the most part, I agree with you. Some of those things (hats in a building, for example) are just social constructs, like hair styles. Those things change constantly, but don't amount to anything. But the rest are big issues – they do contribute to a sense of entitlement and a self-centeredness that's destructive, both to te individual and to our society as a whole. I read something about ethics in the New York Times yesterday (there's irony for you right there – ethics and the Times…) it was about a group of ivy league grads who have taken a pledge to not be greedy and to do things for the common good above their own. It sounds all noble, but color me skeptical. Will they support a heavy handed government and policies which take from one who earns and gives to one who doesn't? There's that entitlement thing again. It's got deep roots.

    1. I think you're right, spence, about social constructs vs. attitudes. However, my beef with hats in a building (to stick with that example) is the general lack of understanding that that practice would offend some people. I don't think we need to worry about every little thing we do (you can't please all of the people all of the time, right?), but I do think that it's important for people to understand that their actions have consequences. If you make someone upset 'cause you didn't take off your hat, don't expect them to not hold it against you. It's the entitlement thing again; "I can do what I want, but you need to be nice to me".

      I'd be interested in seeing a link to that NYT article, if you still have it. I'm a bit skeptical, too. Thanks for sharing!

    2. I think you're right, spence, about social constructs vs. attitudes. However, my beef with hats in a building (to stick with that example) is the general lack of understanding that that practice would offend some people. I don't think we need to worry about every little thing we do (you can't please all of the people all of the time, right?), but I do think that it's important for people to understand that one's actions have consequences. If you make someone upset 'cause you didn't take off your hat, don't expect them to not hold it against you. It's the entitlement thing again; "I can do what I want, but you need to be nice to me".

      I'd be interested in seeing a link to that NYT article, if you still have it. I'm a bit skeptical, too. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Yes, yes, and yes. Amen and amen. I'm glad I'm not the only one who believes this stuff is important! I've been saying for a while now that there is more to life than getting ahead. I'd rather be a good person than have a good bank account. And apparently I'm in the minority.

    This is the first and only post I've read on your blog, but if this is any indication of what you have to say to the world from you little corner of the internet, then consider me on board!

  3. A big hell yes with regards to the sense of entitlement and fear of failure cultivated by the touchy-feely parenting style that's apparently, hopefully on its way out already. I know I won't raise my kidlet on the way in this manner. My young nieces are so spoiled and coddled that they have to have what the other's having, have to have their way, have to have success handed to them, have to have. No earning, no trying, certainly no "failing". They're in for a hard, perhaps rude awakening as they grow older. I hope.

    Peace.
    @vinylart

  4. My daughter is 22 now. She finished High School (Home schooling) at 16, then moved out of her Mothers house and started supporting herself. Now I'm known to be something of a "hard ass", ex-con and ex-marine, but my integrity is virtually never questioned. My ex-wife remarried one of the most racist, homophobic, OCD individuals to ever drag their knuckles out of a West Virginia cave. I could not do anything about the influences she had at home, but I could counter them when I had her. We went to Pot festivals, Gay Pride rallys, the Bohemian parts of Atlanta and we lived in one of the roughest (meaning poorest, usually) sections of Atlanta when she was with me. She got to see that there was good and bad in all kinds of people and that race, religion and sexual orientation is no indicator of whether a person is good or bad. I Taught her respect for herself and all others, even those we do not always agree with. There IS plenty of decency still out there in the world. Try to remember that decency really boils down to respecting others and even their right to be ignorant.

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