I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m getting old and crotchety – although just the use of that word may indicate that I am – or whether the world is really becoming extremely ill mannered. Some days, I feel as if the world needs Judith Martin aka Miss Manners to take charge and make it possible for us to live in cities without constantly being bombarded with people who obviously have no manners at all.
Several, okay, more than several, many years ago, Miss Manners published her first book, Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. The book was (as I’m sure the “Freshly Updated” version is) both funny and smart. Everyone was reading it at the time, although now that I think about it, I’m not sure that the manners I experienced on the streets of Toronto were any better than they had been before the book became so popular. I wonder now if there’s a way to try an experiment with the Freshly Updated version? Give it to three thousand people in some city somewhere, ask them to read it, base their behavior on the book, and see if there’s a ripple effect on the city in which they live.
However, to get back to the point of this blog, good manners now seem to be something to be worried about rather than celebrated. People look at you oddly if you open the door for them, if you offer to help carry their bags, if you smile at them on the street. In fact, thanks to the ubiquitousness of the cellphone, aka the method by which we text our friends and acquaintances so we no longer need to speak to them or – God forbid – interact with them in person, there is no longer any need for good manners at all.
Here are a couple of things I’ve noticed in the past few months.
For many people, they no longer feel the need to keep their eyes on the sidewalk or the road. They seem to believe that the gadgets in their hands or their cars take the place of paying attention. Their gadgets, they believe, will save them from any collision when, in fact, they’re saved from those collisions by those few people who believe that gadgets are tools for living and not life itself and are willing to put them away and pay attention to the world around them.
Almost every day as I walk to work, I run into someone who is typing on the phone in their hand and I have to step aside to avoid being run over. They don’t say “I’m sorry” nor do they stop texting as they cross the street against the light. Pretty soon, there will be a section in the Obituaries titled “People who died with a phone in their hands”. Not quite as memorable as “He died with his boots on” but it does have a certain ring. And, of course, they will be buried with their cellphone because their hand has locked tight on it at the moment they are hit by a car driven by someone who is texting on their phone – even though that’s illegal in most states of the U.S. and almost all of the provinces in Canada.
Miss Manners, I’m sure, has some suggestions for these people – but wouldn’t it be nice if each city or town or neighborhood declares one day a week a cellphone free day? Now, I realize that’s impossible, and maybe it could just be a single hour that’s cellphone free. Obviously, we’d only be able to enforce the ban in public – but honestly? That’s all that needs to be done. Because then we’d see people’s faces rather than just the tops of their heads as they lean over their cellphones, and they would see us when we’re passing on the street. They’d notice when a car was coming. They might even smile at the person who holds the door open for them. Now that might change the world.