Ladies and Gentlemen – a new conception of politeness
If you’re a lover of old books and movies, you’ll have noticed that there used to be a very accepted concept of Politeness that pervaded society. But around the 1960’s, when all sort of really necessary changes happened, Politeness began to get a bad name. How could rules of behavior be legitimate, if they included treating women as less than men, other races as less than white people, and the poor as less than the rich? That’s the way it had been in the past, and it needed to change.
So those rules got dropped, and then, for a decade or so, it seemed that our society lost all rules of decorum. Then a different set of rules came in, with the creepy name of “Political Correctness.” This sounds like Nazism or something, but was really a set of social behavior rules set to replace the old Politeness, concerning itself with reducing sexism, racism, classism, etc. It was certainly necessary. But I’m thinking we’ve reached a time when we’re ready to bring Politeness back… but improved Politeness.
You see, I think there was something great about humans having the concept of Ladies and Gentlemen. But as our world’s values have changed, that no longer should mean rich white people who treat others as lower than them! Instead, it’s time for us to redefine these terms, in ways we like!
Now I don’t need to ever be called a Lady. The rules for my gentility are too simple for that – sit, shake, heel; don’t jump on strangers or bite anyone, etc. But I know that there are ways I like to see people act, and ways I don’t. So here’s my beginning list of Shirelle’s Rules for Ladies and Gentlemen!
1. Ladies and Gentlemen respect older people and children, and avoid doing things that will hurt or offend them. When I see cars and t-shirts, or even movie posters, saying things that no one would want to say in front of their grandmothers, I know that the people who broadcast these comments are not humans I want in my house. Since we all know what words I mean, that means that we know better than to put them out there! And that goes for saying them loudly in public too.
2. Ladies and Gentlemen respect themselves. We see insects and reptiles who treat themselves and their lives with more respect than some people. While most of being a Lady or Gentleman is about treating others fairly or well, it’s also terribly important to honor yourself, including your health, your feelings, your opinions, and your appearance.
3. Ladies and Gentlemen treat all people with respect, regardless of their race, gender, class, or nationality. This includes understanding that “respect” has to be shown different ways to different people. The days of open segregation and discrimination are over, but there’s lots still going on in a subtler way (which means it’s harder to tell). Ladies and Gentlemen really do the work to avoid those evils. But they also work to show respect in different ways. People in some cultures don’t like to be touched, for example, while others consider a hearty handshake or embrace to be the way to meet (and I like to jump on everyone!). Ladies and Gentlemen try to understand those differences, and honor them.
4. Ladies and Gentlemen honor their own beliefs with deep integrity, but work to also honor those of others with whom they disagree. This refers to politics and morality, but especially to religions. It amazes me that, in this age of the “global village,” people still are so quick to insult or disparage others’ beliefs. Of course, if a part of someone else’s religion endangers other people, there should be laws that prevent those things being carried out. But that doesn’t mean anyone needs to put down the beliefs (or lack of beliefs) behind that religion. Certainly not a Lady or a Gentleman!
5. Ladies and Gentlemen consider Kindness a high value, and try to act kindly whenever they can. This is the core value that I believe a true Lady or Gentleman would have. This includes basic manners (“Please” and “Thank You” and “Excuse me” still work after all these years). But if someone behaves with a sort of Politeness that is inherently unkind, that’s the kind of Politeness that the world’s better off without.
6. Ladies and Gentlemen don’t take advantage of people working for them. If you want to see a dog lose respect for a human in one second, let that human insult their waiter or waitress. That poor worker has no way of responding to them without getting fired, and the insulter knows it. Maybe there’s a simpler way of stating this: You cannot be both a Bully and a Gentleman or Lady. If you’re one, you’re not the other.
Note: This also includes Public Servants. A Lady or Gentleman treats Police Officers, Firefighters, and members of the Armed Forces with respect and open gratitude. Even if you don’t agree with every mission they’ve ever had to do, their willingness to do it has risked their lives to keep you safe.
7. Ladies and Gentlemen respect that we all share this earth and its resources. This is one of the rules that just didn’t exist in the old Politeness, but has to be added now. People who litter, or add to pollution in ways that are unnecessary, or who design policies in their home or work that ruin the environment for others, are Rude and Selfish. Now that doesn’t mean that to be a Lady or Gentleman you have to be the most strict environmentalist out there; you just need the awareness that the Earth is like a giant dinner table, and if you hog all the food, or throw your trash into someone else’s place, that’s not good table manners!
8. Ladies and Gentlemen honor other people’s divergent tastes. If you like a certain sort of music, that’s great, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it. But you don’t really need to force everyone around you to hear it when they don’t want to. (On the other hand, it’s not exactly Ladylike behavior to complain every time your neighbors throw a party and you are able to hear their awful music!) Similarly, someone else wearing different sorts of clothes to yours, or reading books you don’t like, actually makes the world a better and more interesting place, not worse!
9. Ladies and Gentlemen tell the truth (except when necessary). They know that gains gotten by lies are not worth their cost. The core of being a Lady or Gentleman is respecting yourself and others. If you’re lying (unless it’s for a noble reason), you’re disrespecting both. The Hebrew Commandment said to not bear false witness against one’s neighbor, but I’m being tougher than that! Try to avoid any type of lying. Besides, life is so much easier when you tell the truth, because you don’t have to run around trying to protect the lie. If you tell the truth, you get to respect yourself the whole time!
10. Ladies and Gentlemen treat children and animals with love and respect – even the ones they don’t like. Did I include respecting children in two of these rules? I sure did. Because in a funny way, ALL these rules could come down to this one. If a person acts in a way that honors children’s rights to their present and future, they’re automatically going to be Ladies and Gentlemen. And when it comes to animals – look, no one has to like everyone (and I’ve made no secret on here about my distaste of cats!), but you humans do run this world. And to treat animals badly is a sign of laziness and cruelty (again, Bullies aren’t Gentlemen). If you see a spider in your house, you have the power and the right to step on it. But if, instead, you catch it and put it outdoors, you’ve just proven yourself a more genteel, polite, and fine person!
Okay, that’s my beginning list. Now here’s what I ask of you: Can you add to it?! I would SO love that! Who knows? Maybe if we get enough additions to it, we can start a worldwide conversation, and make the whole human race better!
So please, think of something that YOU would like to see on this list, and post it as a comment on this blog!
The future is ours! A whole new world of Ladies, Gentlemen, Dogs… and, well, yes, cats too!
Wow. I am going to have to think of something to add. I work with women who have been bullied, and I should be able to come up with something to say about treating others well. Joanna