Manners and Politics

What puts people off?

Manner is defined as; the style or customary way of doing or accomplishing something.

Manners are defined as: a socially acceptable way of behaving.

One of the basic examples of bad manners is lateness. When a supplier is late delivering, this is cause for changing the supplier. It shows bad manners. When anyone in some position of authority, or is working for an organisation that you cannot change your connection with, is late then this is outright rudeness. A disdain for other human beings. An arrogance that shows their character to be flawed. In this age of mobile phones and super fast communication, there is no excuse for not informing people if events have conspired to make you late. It may not be your fault you are late but if you fail to communicate with those waiting, it could be that you are showing a disrespect that is unworthy. Being late is a show of disrespect and will result in being disrespected. A presidential candidate who is late for their press conferences is going to have a struggle to get the journalists on their side.

In personal relationships, this is emphasised. Being late for a first date probably means it is also the last date. Being late without attempting to inform the person waiting will strain even a long-term relationship. I know of people who decide that they do not have to conform to time structures and they can please themselves about keeping appointments and arrangements. These people often refer to themselves as “free spirits” unencumbered by the strictures of lesser beings. I also know of some very lonely people who are in the later stages of life.

Politically, the “manners” a politician wishes to show to potential voters is a dangerous area. As I will attempt to show below, what is shown to one group of potential supporters needs to differ from that shown to other groups. With an ever-vigilant media, much of which is seeking ways to discredit the politician, this is a very difficult trick to make succeed.

The definitions show that differing groups will have differing views of what are good manners, since many interpersonal manners are judged based on the opinions of the judge. To some it is bad manners to avoid looking into the eyes of the person you are speaking to, others think the opposite, that staring at someone while you speak is rude. If we go back two hundred years the various different social groups lived relatively separate lives. There was very little social mobility; the biggest possibility of interaction between differing social groups would have been between the wealthy and their servants. In this, the customs and manners of the wealthy were imposed on the servants, who would be out of work if they did not comply. In the military, the manners are enshrined in orders and rules, which forces everyone to comply with the laid down manners.

Much of these older ideas of good manners were designed, as in the military, to ensure a continuation of a hierarchy of obedience. No one turned their back on a king who was an absolute ruler in every respect. No one showed disobedience to a Pope who could excommunicate them and send them to hell for an eternity. All down the ruling system, each layer could enforce a show of respect because they had absolute power over those “below” them. A Prince had to show respect to the king but a Lord had to show respect to a prince. A cardinal had to respect a Pope while a priest had to show deference to a cardinal. Times have changed but in some ways, the imposition of what is good manners has not. Religious leaders and despotic rulers can still enforce obedience by the use of fear and the threat of violence. In other ways, things have changed a great deal. Outside of political dictatorships, very few people have a real-time, life or death hold over large numbers of other people. This presents a problem for politicians as the codes for what are good manners are now so variable.

Showing respect, by the voluntary display of good manners, actually shows far more respect than the showing of good manners because of a fear of reprisals. So good manners show respect; if those good manners comply to the ideas of the respected person, then greater respect is shown. This is exaggerated in modern, democratic, law-abiding societies, by the interaction between younger adults and the elderly. Young people have always tended to consider their elders as being somehow out of date, and so less able to cope in a modern world than they are themselves. This is not necessarily always true, but it is held by a majority of young adults. They form their own codes of speech and mannerisms and consider these superior to that of past generations. Because of this generalised view, often promoted by those making money out of this age group, they have a tendency to be reluctant to show respect and deliberately refuse to comply to the older codes of good manners. It is perverse that, within their own society, they expect respect to be shown. The clash between an older person in a position of authority and a younger person determined to only follow their own code of good manners leads to conflict and great misunderstanding. This effect will have a large part in determining who an 18-year-old will vote for, but if a candidate adopts the manners of youth, in order to win their vote, they will almost certainly alienate older voters who dislike the “new” manners of the young.

There can be a similar conflict when incomers to an established society do not conform to the established codes of the indigenous people. When large numbers of incomers who all comply with codes of religion and manners that differ from the existing citizens, then you have the basis for unrest and conflict. It is no good politicians demanding acceptance, it does not matter how rigid the rules. People do not accept changes to their own existing codes of good manners and social conduct. They fight back, they expect incomers to comply with their codes. Even when large numbers of incomers set up their own society and structure, they find that their children gradually rebel against their codes. The dual pressures of youth and external influence combine to cause a distancing between the codes of the young in their “new” country, and the codes brought with them by their parents. This leads to distress and emotional conflict.

Good manners and showing respect are important to the cohesion of any society. They are also important to international relationships. A politician in power needs to be well advised as to the codes of good manners acceptable to other nations.

A politician seeking power has to be aware of the variations, of what is acceptable, to the differing parts of the electorate. The demographic structure and voting patterns of the various age groups and social structures, within their constituency, will play a big part in the manners the candidate chooses to show in public, and to the media who report to that public. Leaders, such as Presidential candidates and potential Prime Ministers, have a more difficult job. The spread of age and social groups, through an entire nation, tends to even out and so it is more difficult to find one set of manners that will appeal to a majority.

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Manners and Politics
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