It's good to be back after an unavoidable break; my sincerest apologies to our readers and followers of this etiquette column. As I focused on our etiquette summer camps, it became more apparent to me that etiquette has become a lost art.
As much as I hate to admit it, and as earnestly I have sought evidence to the contrary, rules of etiquette have become anachronistic. Etiquette is dead. There are no rules.
Maybe we'll crack open a dusty reference book to remind ourselves of table settings for fancy dinners, or to seek guidance when planning something monumental and public, like a wedding, but the strict rules that governed the everyday are gone.
Do I address my neighbour as Mr Johnson or just Thomas? Do I hand the tip to my hairdresser or leave it with the receptionist? Is an email an acceptable thank you note, or does it have to be handwritten? We make these decisions on a more personal, individual basis, whereas in the past, there was one comprehensive set of rules to which anybody with a little class knew to turn.
Today's successful etiquette guides aren't really guides at all, but, instead, rants against the rude behavior of the masses.
In a way, it's just as well. When there are no rules, per se, we're forced to evaluate situations as they arise, determining the course of our actions, and taking it. The absence of rules means that we have to be more vigilant than ever. We aren't slaves to Bright Sparkes, but we are still citizens of our society, and we still have to deal with each other.
How do we address our neighbour? However he tells us to when he introduces himself, or when we specifically ask him. Once good manners become situational, instead of habitual, we become more conscious of their importance and essentiality in all our lives. Social interactions with no maps, no signs - no rules - are difficult, but they're also rewarding and ingenuous.
I do worry that, without rules, we risk becoming more selfish and egocentric than the society-minded good citizens that etiquette has traditionally moulded. It is tempting to think about good deeds just as they relate to their use to you personally. If I compliment her, she'll like me better. If I send my interviewer a follow-up email, I'm more likely to get the job. If I'm nice, Santa will come. Sure, good manners have material rewards, but I am in earnest when I write that their altruistic benefits are also great.
Conscientiousness breeds happiness. Manners, whether set in stone or unwritten, ought to exist out of respect for the dignity of others.
Our task as the leaders of this young, etiquette-less generation is to uphold the one rule that is still very much alive: honesty.
When there are no rules, no guidelines for actions, the most straightforward solution is almost always the best. As we venture into a world of pushy people, ruthless businesspeople, and phony friends, we must sharpen our wits and observational skills and, in the absence of Bright Sparkes, hold on to the principles that, rules or no rules, will always exist.
Etiquette is dead! Long live etiquette!