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Rules of Behaviour
Posted: 16 October 2007 01:14 PM   [ Ignore ]
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As a kid in Czechoslovakia I was taught a number of rules describing how to behave in a society. For example: a handshake should be initiated by a woman or an older person; offer a seat to elderly and women of any age; men cannot wear hat indoors, women can; going down the stairs: man goes first, woman second; going up the stairs: woman goes first, man second; et cetera, et cetera.

I now live in Canada were people were not taught the same rules and I realize that either will my children. You are still supposed to offer a seat to an older person. In the case of offering a seat to a woman, we usually (only?) see this happen when the woman is pregnant.

My question is: are we better off without most of these rules? Why are they disappearing? Would you teach your child (a boy) to wait for the woman to initiate the handshake and to take off his glove when finally offered her hand?

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Posted: 16 October 2007 01:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I think most of the rules you describe are conventions that smooth and order social interactions, and the specifics tend to differ greatly between cultures and across time, but there are always some around because they serve a purpose. Each generation tends to decry the disappearance of what they grew up to see as “manners” but I’m not convinced there really is a steady decline in the number or arbitrariness of such rules.

Now some of these kinds of rules can be rationlized as sensible kindness, such as offering a seat to someone who finds standing more difficult than you do. Others derive from hierarchy, as as notions of hierarchy change so do the specifics of the rules. We don’t use “boss” or “master” for our social superiors much any more, and that’s probably a good thing. Offering a seat to women went out of fashion during the feminist movement as a vestige of partiarchy and an implicit statement that women were weak, but I think the pendulum has swung back more towards the middle here in the U.S., and while I remember being berated for opening doors and offering seats 25 years ago, it almost never happens now even in a pretty feminism-friendly place like San Francisco.

I don’t think there is anything intrinsically right or wrong about most such conventions, but individual ones can be good or bad depending on how they are applied and what their subtext is. Either way, I put them in the same category as language usage in the sense that they come and go in a way largely beyond anyone’s control, so they’re not worth getting to worked up over (not that I’m suggesting you are).

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Posted: 16 October 2007 07:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I don’t know about initiating a handshake, it use to be that, but not anymore.  I have taught my sons to give an eldly person or a woman any age their seat (like when the bus is full say and people have to stand). The stairs bit seems a little genteel, which is nice and sweet, if you’re on a date and want to impress the girl/woman.  Opening a door for a woman is still very much appreciated- at least I appreciate it- and I do appreciate it when a gentleman offers me his seat when a bus is standing copacity only- in part because I can barely reach those rings to hold on.

Gentlemen, here is the worst thing you can do on a first date and I came home having a bit of a rant to my tall sons.  I had a first date with this guy and as usual there is quite a bit of size difference.  Always is when you’re like me and 4’ 11”.  I was looking up at him and at the time I was either listening to him or talking to him.  I don’t know which now, but suddenly he kissed me.  I said, “I look up at you and you kiss me?”  His response was, “You looked like you wanted to be kissed.”  rolleyes  WRONG!  Please don’t interpret a short woman looking up at you as wanting to be kissed when it’s your first date, esp if you are not saying good-bye to her just yet.

So, please, if you see a little woman on the bus struggling to reach a ring and hang on, don’t be afraid of outdated conventions- offer your seat please, if the little woman is having difficulties opening a heavy door, esp if a strong wind makes it even harder, don’t be afraid to help her, and above all don’t assume she wants to be kissed when she looks up at you.  Of course, I’m talking about little women here and not tall robust women.  Tall women have a different view- no pun intended.

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Posted: 16 October 2007 08:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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mckenzievmd - 16 October 2007 01:44 PM

I put them in the same category as language usage in the sense that they come and go in a way largely beyond anyone’s control

Brennen,
I think I agree with this. Nevertheless, would you try to correct your daughter if she said “like” after every two words?

Mriana - 16 October 2007 07:13 PM

if the little woman is having difficulties opening a heavy door, esp if a strong wind makes it even harder, don’t be afraid to help her, and above all don’t assume she wants to be kissed when she looks up at you.

LOL LOL LOL

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Posted: 16 October 2007 08:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Well, I wouldn’t say “correct.” If she said something I felt was unclear or confusing, I’d tell her that, and if she said something I thought was just plain ugly I’d tell her that. I wouldn’t necessarily present it as correct vs incorrect. Even as she is learning speech (she’s 7, so she makes a lto of mistakes with past tense vowel changes and such), I usually just repeat what she’s said in what I consider the conventional form, so she can hear the difference, without commenting on it.

My wife is much more commited to social conventions, so she does a lto more etiquette training than I do. I tend to lean hard on consideration and kindness and not so hard on the little conventions, but that’s just a difference in our outlook. I think of please and thank you kinds of rituals as important in inculcating and reinforcing consideration for others, so I emphasize them, but I couldn’t care less about elbows on the table.

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Posted: 16 October 2007 08:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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George, do you feel like there is something lacking because we don’t emphasize rules like these?

I think society is transforming in such a way that more people tend to embrace an almost extreme form of individuality.  That might be the reason for the disappearance of these rules.  I don’t know about teaching rules, but teaching basic consideration is always a good thing.

A lot of “culture” that we live in is dying out due to the unbelievable pace of science and communication, which I think this is causing a lot of people to lose their religion and thus doubt their culture.  I wonder if this idea is along Kanitian lines—I think everyone should work to develop a culture that is beneficial for all.  I’ll just leave it at that for now.

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Posted: 16 October 2007 09:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Brennen’s story reminded me of a similar event in the mid-seventies.  I had gone to our Berkeley laboratories.  A group of us drove to a restaurant for lunch.  I got to the entrance first and held the door open.  A woman who I later found to be a militant woman’s liberationist berated me for holding the door for her because I was demonstrating my superiority.  Since I was much more confrontational and less forgiving then, I said for all in the group to hear, “I got to the door first so I would hold it open for anyone as a matter of courtesy, not of power.  However, I assume from your comment that had you been first you would have not held the door open for me because you are a self-centered, self-aggrandizing person with no sensitivity to the normal social behavior of each helping others whenever possible, not matter what gender, age, orientation, et cetera, that anyone is.” 

The rest of the lunch was rather subdued, but she never bugged me again.  I may not have changed her beliefs, but as long as she learned not to act like an ass in her relations with me, that was sufficient.

Occam

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Posted: 16 October 2007 09:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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LOL  LOL  LOL  LOL

I would have said the same thing back then, Occam. Being older, wiser and more experienced, these days I would stop after “courtesy,” and demonstrate my moral superiority rather than stooping to the woman’s level. Ah if I only knew then what I know now that woman in a Dallas bar would have never cold-cocked me for insulting her girlfriend. Damn, I was a jerk 30 years ago.

[ Edited: 16 October 2007 09:55 PM by DarronS ]
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Posted: 16 October 2007 09:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I go out of my way to hold a door open for a women, regardless. I also reach for the door first if I am able and hold the door for anyone. I am also more respectful of women in general and I notice that women seem more kind in most situations.

[ Edited: 16 October 2007 09:51 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 16 October 2007 10:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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godblessgeorgecarlin - 16 October 2007 08:51 PM

George, do you feel like there is something lacking because we don’t emphasize rules like these?

No, not at all, godblessgeorgecarlin. I like living in Canada where people seem more polite and tolerant than anywhere else I had lived or visited. And I strongly agree with you when you say that, “everyone should work to develop a culture that is beneficial for all.” I think you’re also right about the reason why the rules are disappearing.

I am just a little unsure about what to teach my children. And I really have a difficulty initiating a handshake with a woman — something that has caused me a number of embarrassing moments.

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Posted: 16 October 2007 11:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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George - 16 October 2007 10:46 PM

And I really have a difficulty initiating a handshake with a woman — something that has caused me a number of embarrassing moments.

Ah, just do it.  We won’t bite your head off for that.  LOL

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Posted: 16 October 2007 11:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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<>

[ Edited: 22 January 2008 08:15 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 17 October 2007 01:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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My grandfather taught me, that when I do shake someone’s hand, “Make it firm, not a dead fish.”  In other words, I maybe a female, but whimpy handshakes are not necessary.

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Posted: 17 October 2007 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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George - 16 October 2007 01:14 PM

As a kid in Czechoslovakia I was taught a number of rules describing how to behave in a society. For example: a handshake should be initiated by a woman or an older person; offer a seat to elderly and women of any age; men cannot wear hat indoors, women can; going down the stairs: man goes first, woman second; going up the stairs: woman goes first, man second; et cetera, et cetera.

I now live in Canada were people were not taught the same rules and I realize that either will my children. You are still supposed to offer a seat to an older person. In the case of offering a seat to a woman, we usually (only?) see this happen when the woman is pregnant.

My question is: are we better off without most of these rules? Why are they disappearing? Would you teach your child (a boy) to wait for the woman to initiate the handshake and to take off his glove when finally offered her hand?

I think these type of “rules” help to teach people compassion, and I feel if there were more compassion in the world, it would make the interactions of people run a lot smoother. However, I don’t necessarily like labeling these type of actions as rules, I think they are more like guidelines to kindness and compassion.

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Posted: 17 October 2007 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Mriana - 17 October 2007 01:01 AM

My grandfather taught me, that when I do shake someone’s hand, “Make it firm, not a dead fish.”  In other words, I maybe a female, but whimpy handshakes are not necessary.

On the otherside, I never appreciate it when somebody crushes the bones in my hand becuase they believe that firm hand shake is necessary.

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Posted: 17 October 2007 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Yeah, I originally had the word rules accompanied by quotations (i.e. “rules”). Somehow they got lost. Interestingly though, they did refer to them as THE RULES back in Cz. when I was a kid. I wonder if this has anything to do with me not being able to let go.

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