Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On Politeness

Politeness is not merely "Thank you", "Excuse me" and "Please".  These too.  Such phrases convey the sentiment: "I realize that I might have put you to some inconvenience."

That is however just elementary politeness, which we can teach little children.

What is adult politeness?

Simply put, adult politeness is to behave in a way that does not discomfort other people or make them feel awkward.  It is to care enough about others' feelings that one is willing to put some thought into how one interacts with them.

A few examples will illustrate, ones which most normal people already understand and follow:

Let us say one is at a dinner party and the main dish (prepared by the hostess) is too salty.  The hostess is asking you for seconds.  The impolite response would be to tell the truth.  The polite response would be to invent an excuse that does not make the hostess feel bad.

As another example, a friend calls you for his birthday party.  You just want to idle away your evening but don't want to hurt his feelings.  The impolite response would be to tell the truth that you don't feel like coming over.  The polite response would again be to invent an excuse for busyness.

In earlier times, polite behavior used to be called "manners".  Family and school were places where one learnt this.  "Polite society" was exactly that section of the population in which one could expect good manners.

It is not hard to see that, now-a-days, being "true to oneself" is becoming a higher value than being sensitive to others' feelings.  To express oneself is considered more desirable than to be restrained.

Is that a good thing?  Does it lead to more sanity and harmony, or otherwise?  Do we like polite people or do we enjoy the company of rude ones?  There are certainly circumstances in which telling the truth without sugar-coating is important, but most situations are immensely helped by a desire to not hurt.

To balance one's own needs with an emotional sensitivity for the other is the hallmark of a polite person.

1 comment:

Sriram Naganathan said...

satyam bruyaat priyam bruyaat na bruyaat satyam apriyam

priyam ca naanrutam bruyaat esha dharmah sanaatanah

Speak truth in such a way that it should be pleasing to others. Never speak truth, which is unpleasant to others. Never speak untruth, which might be pleasant. This is the path of sanatana dharma.

Does this somewhat agree with what you are saying? The third part (Never speak untruth, which might be pleasant) appears tricky though.