Normally the threat of physical consequences tends to improve certain kinds of manners.
Actually, there is some reason to believe that the likelihood of encountering immediate physical consequences does tend to diminish certain forms of antisocial behavior. Check out a real cowboy bar sometime, or any other place where a fight could actually break out: by and large, people in such environments tend to interact with more awareness of the discomforts they may induce in others. On the other side of the coin, I once lived in a city where a great many people were oblivious to the unwritten rules of conduct, such as the taboo against pushing ones face into somebody elses. When, say, a line became stalled at the checkout counter of a drugstore, these folks considered it an especially appropriate time to look backward through the line. And Im not talking mere perfunctory glances. I mean, from a distance of no more than a foot ahead of you, turning completely around and parking their face smack dab in the center of your line of vision--and then just keeping it there, for, oh, about as long as it takes a good mechanic to change a cars oil, or maybe for the average person to eat a sandwich. Again, Ive rarely seen this kind of behavior in environments where it was plausible that fisticuffs might be forthcoming. But in this particular city, where physical confrontation was only slightly less unlikely than drowning in a tsunami, such behavior was rampant. I suppose when you think about it, there has probably always been some sort of correlation between courtesy and the potential for violence. The times when men walked around with swords at their sides did tend to be periods of highly refined manners. But for our own times, I could not in good conscience propose that we all strap on dueling gear before we step out onto the sidewalk. Nor could I suggest that we start punching one another out in the name of improved courtesy. What else might avail us?
© COPYRIGHT 1998 ROBERT WINTER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.