Tony Blair wants to make a "culture of respect" a central tenet of his final term of office. There has been an interesting debate on it in the British media...I will leave a few links here for those who want to explore.
I wonder if Mr Blair was reading my mind, because I have been thinking quite a lot on the subject of respect and manners myself in recent times!!! To me, the two go hand in hand.
One can learn the right way to pronounce and eat "escargot" or lobster carapaces from a book or a finishing school sheep dip, but can you learn how to be a decent human being in a one month or even one year crash course? I think not.
What is the purpose and foundation of manners and respect?
It stems from empathy for others and awareness of the fact that we all share this universe, and that in order to live in harmony, there is a give and take in terms of rights and responsibilities. These are values that are ingrained from early childhood, and are copied from the behaviour of parents firstly, and teachers and friends in the second instance.
In a culture of "me, me, me" wanting it all "now, now, now", where communication is instantaneous, where relationships are started and ended in less than 140 characters on a mobile fone screen, where people are "deleted", where pollution is "outsourced" and finished goods "insourced", where we trade our connectedness to reality and live virtually in several simultaneous imagined lives and under alter egos and avatars (Ms Maverick being one such an example-granted!), its a consequence that awareness of self, impact on others and flow-on consequences to environment and society is diluted and possibly lost- and along with it, respect and manners.
Much as I love technology and adopt it fast, I get personally irked by the accompanied lack of manners in its use. Take instant messaging as an example.
Why would one forget one's manners of polite interaction in this medium? Why would you not "knock" before entering, enquire if its convenient to talk, remember that the person at the other end has a real life and is in fact real, maintain politeness as if you are talking face to face, acknowledge one another, close a conversation politely with a goodbye or something equally civil?
The mobile phone these days follow you everywhere, but its still a good idea before launching into your life story to check that its convenient for the other to take the call! Always on doesn't mean eveready!
But these are trivial examples in the bigger scheme of things. Where is the downstream impact of lack of respect more blatantly obvious than in our environment?
Or at the ugly interface between cultures and races? I have seen people who pride themselves on fine manners and sophistication lose the veneer entirely when it comes to someone that is not from the same socio-political and economic demographics. Yes, it has a name...anything that ends in "ism"
I think this is the dilemma that multi-cultural societies face in maintaining a culture of respect and good manners. It has to go beyond ethno-centricity. No finishing school can fix this. If we don't nurture empathy for others regardless of creed or colour in our homes and in every building block of education along the way, no laws will fix it retrospectively.
Manners and respect are grown and cultivated from within...its a value rather than a technique, or a finishing coat slapped on in a fine private school or crash-course in Lausanne. They reflect who you are more than where you live, what school you attend, what wealth you enjoy, what colour your skin or what you wear on your head- be that a beret, a burkah, a beanie, a baseball cap, a turban, a top-hat or a fez!
Children who learn empathy for others and the concept of systemic thinking (understanding that everything is connected and affects everything else), will recognise for themselves what is the right thing to do in any situation.
The most amazing thing about it though is how respect, and lack thereof, is recycled. The more you give respect, the more you get it from others. The more disrespect you dish out, the more you are disrespected. Its a simple equation.