Author Topic: What is the purpose of etiquette?  (Read 1748 times)

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Psychopoesie

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What is the purpose of etiquette?
« on: December 25, 2013, 03:46:18 AM »
Happy holidays all

Reading through ehell threads often sets me wondering about some broader questions of etiquette. So I figured some of these questions might be a good discussion starter for a thread. Apologies if these have been raised in the past.

What is the purpose of etiquette?

What makes a behaviour rude?

What makes a behaviour polite?

How do respect, kindness (or compassion) and consideration fit with the requirements of etiquette, if at all?

I'm wondering whether people have favourite definitions (e.g. Emily Post) or have developed their own personal understanding over the years.

Sure I've missed some of the things that bother me from time to time. So I'm also wondering if others also have these sorts of questions sometimes and, if so, whether you'd share those questions in the thread.











Pen^2

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #1 on: December 25, 2013, 06:16:59 AM »
I know that, a century or so ago, a large part of the purpose of etiquette was to avoid any strong emotions having a chance to develop or be expressed (and thereby, if they were acted upon, they would make someone behave as though they were from the less polite lower classes). So a gentleman wouldn't look at a lady changing not because he cared about her privacy so much as that he didn't want to be affected by lust and subsequently behave like some sort of uncivilised youth.

These days, it's more about respect and making society work smoothly. The purpose of it is, as I've come to understand it, fundamental to civilised society. If we all did what suited ourselves best without consideration of others, then society would not work. I always feel that etiquette is about doing what you can to smooth things for others, to a point. Where that point is changes depending on the relationship of the person to you. I'm willing to do a lot more for my husband than for some random person on the street, for example. I would make arrangements to quit my job and care for him full-time if he were to become severely disabled, say, but wouldn't do this for someone I just met. More commonly, if you're hosting a dinner, you do what you can to make the dinner go smoothly and without unpleasantness so everyone can enjoy themselves, but not to the extent that you bring about your own financial ruin or anything. It needs to be tempered with what is practical and feasible.

So it's not so much about hard-and-fast rules as some people might like to think. In different regions or countries, for example, following one rule might be seen as varyingly polite or rude. Following a rule blindly is not polite, because it means you're not thinking of others. It's rude to slurp soup in England, for example, but very polite to do so in Japan. Your behaviour should change depending on who you are with and what their relationship to you is, rather than always acting in a set way like a robot. You can't say hard and fast what is rude or polite, since these are often not universal, but depend on context.

With this mindset, it's not too hard to determine what makes a behaviour rude. That said, there will be people whom you cannot please, and people who are rude to others, and you should not bend over backwards trying to compensate for them. Again, it needs to be tempered with what is practical. If someone is absolutely determined to make a fool of themselves or to be unpleasant to others, then you are not obligated to go to great lengths to stop them. Possibly, instead, you could help others avoid being subject to their behaviour by not inviting the troublemaker to events where they will stir things up. If someone's being unreasonable, etiquette does not demand that you reward them for it (by being a doormat or covering for their rudeness to others), since this will often be at the expense of yourself and/or others, which is contrary to the purpose of etiquette.

That's my feeling about it anyway, based on musings over the last few years. Maybe someone else has a more interesting way of looking at it?

Runningstar

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #2 on: December 25, 2013, 07:51:26 AM »
Great reply Pen^2.  I think of etiquette as the oil in a machine, the way that society (and family too!) can smoothly operate. 

sweetonsno

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2013, 12:34:19 AM »
I think Pen^2's definition is my new favorite.

In short, however, I think etiquette boils down to showing respect for others' feelings and comfort. It is acknowledging that others exist with needs that may or may not be in alignment with our own, and realizing that sometimes, we may need to temper our own desires and impulses in order to keep things running smoothly. I agree that the purpose is essentially to grease the wheels of society. We live with others, may as well make it as comfortable as possible.

I think a behavior that is polite is one that shows respect. Now, obviously, the specific rules may vary based on society, but if you're being respectful in whatever way that the context calls for, you probably aren't going to be rude.

A behavior that is rude is one that is disrespectful and/or self-centered in a situation where others are involved. There are a few exceptions, of course. (Safety vs. etiquette, emergencies, etc.)

I think kindness and compassion are central parts of consideration and etiquette, particularly when dealing with people who may have slipped up. Someone forgets that a guest is kosher and makes quiche Lorraine? Misunderstands vegetarianism and serves a Caesar salad or grilled chicken? Stuff like that happens all the time. The guest shouldn't take the slip-up personally, but understand the good intention that comes with an invitation. The host shouldn't take a guest's decision to not consume something personally, either. Sure, a situation like that is awkward (just like stepping on someone's foot), but approaching the other person with compassion and kindness is exactly what etiquette is there for.

Note: this doesn't mean being a doormat or not having boundaries. It means saying, "I'm afraid that won't be possible" or "Excuse me" instead of "No way, you bleepity-bleep-bleep" or "Watch where you're going, you fecal-encephalic knave!"

Take2

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #4 on: December 26, 2013, 12:45:35 AM »
We are, by our nature, pack animals. Animals that live in packs cannot behave purely out of self interest. Laws exist to protect the interests of pack members' physical safety, but that is not sufficient for a successful pack. We have to interact in millions of ways each day, and etiquette is the agreed upon standard for interactions that preserve our emotional safety. Polite behavior is helpful and pleasant to other pack members. Rude behavior is hurtful and/or oblivious to other pack members.

Modern human etiquette is complex because our interactions are complex, but even dogs have etiquette, such as acceptable invitation to play and introductions and acknowledging social hierarchy.

jalutaja

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #5 on: December 26, 2013, 04:01:30 AM »
Great reply Pen^2.  I think of etiquette as the oil in a machine, the way that society (and family too!) can smoothly operate.

Like some other posters, I love this definition.

Unlike others, I see this, in case of class society, as another means to be sure that everyone knows their place.

As the etiquette discussed on this board is mostly originally upper classes one, it baffles me that so many people consider themselves offspring of upper classes.

My forefathers were owned, bought and sold by the noble classes and I am not ashamed of it.  It DOES mean, though, that while I do try not to cause offense, my attitude toward some parts of etiquette is not very positive.

For example, what is the etiquette of selling the servant you own. The Russian ruler Katherine II did agree that putting an ad to newspaper: "On sale: a good cook and a servant able to look after a lady" would be bad manners (after all, she tried to look an enlightened ruler, so it DID look bad if everyone could see that human beings were sold and bought in her country). If you think she banned such practices, you are wrong. What she did was to make it like the wedding registry case described here - if one had to sell a servant, one should spread the information by word of mouth, not print in in pubic newspaper. Like in case of wedding registry - keeping one is not bad tone, just sending it with the wedding invitation is frowned at (did I understand it right?)

ChinaShepherdess

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #6 on: December 26, 2013, 04:25:53 AM »
Thank you for starting this thread! I love the replies I've read so far and look forward to continuing to follow the conversation as it develops.

Personally, I see etiquette as a set of guidelines governing our behavior to help people treat each other with respect and make each other feel comfortable in social situations. I agree with previous posters that etiquette isn't bound by hard and fast rules but, of course, dictated in part by our accord and intimacy with the people we're interacting with, as well as the customs and expectations of a region/discourse community/etc.

I think a polite behavior is one that does not make unreasonable demands of another person (asking someone to bring a dish to a potluck? great. expecting someone to buy you a $250 wedding present just because you want it? terrible.), encourages clear and respectful communication (for example, making household expectations clear to a new roommate, rather than stewing silently for months and lashing out with passive-aggressive behaviors), and helps people feel comfortable in their environment (even if it does require tedious pleasantries or biting your tongue sometimes).

A rude behavior, in my opinion, is one that's selfish or deliberately insulting or cruel. I think sometimes unclear communication can also be terribly rude -- stringing someone along because you don't want to hurt their feelings in the short-term, or generalized rejection of someone because you take issue with a particular behavior of theirs -- and, often unpragmatic.

When I'm considering my behavior and what to do in a situation, my personal etiquette gauge is: How would I feel if someone did this to me? How would I feel if a full-page description of this encounter ran on the front page of the newspaper? Am I being: fair? clear? direct? candid? kind? positive? empathetic? respectful to myself?

Redsoil

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #7 on: December 26, 2013, 06:04:03 AM »
Etiquette, to my way of thinking, is an agreed-upon set of guidelines within a social context to aid in adjusting people's attitudes and expectations with the greater good in mind, to facilitate smooth interactions.  No one person has it all their own way, and each is familiar with customs that provide historical reference for patterns of behaviour most likely to be accepted in any one group.
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Winterlight

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #8 on: December 26, 2013, 11:58:23 AM »
Etiquette gives us a framework in which to live. It's the rules the society you reside in have chosen to work by- and that means not only society in general, but your own subculture(s.) Knowing what the rules are allows you to move comfortably within your environment, and having them codified means you can move to another environment and know generally what's expected.
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shhh its me

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #9 on: December 26, 2013, 12:17:10 PM »
Great reply Pen^2.  I think of etiquette as the oil in a machine, the way that society (and family too!) can smoothly operate.

Like some other posters, I love this definition.

Unlike others, I see this, in case of class society, as another means to be sure that everyone knows their place.

As the etiquette discussed on this board is mostly originally upper classes one, it baffles me that so many people consider themselves offspring of upper classes.

My forefathers were owned, bought and sold by the noble classes and I am not ashamed of it.  It DOES mean, though, that while I do try not to cause offense, my attitude toward some parts of etiquette is not very positive.

For example, what is the etiquette of selling the servant you own. The Russian ruler Katherine II did agree that putting an ad to newspaper: "On sale: a good cook and a servant able to look after a lady" would be bad manners (after all, she tried to look an enlightened ruler, so it DID look bad if everyone could see that human beings were sold and bought in her country). If you think she banned such practices, you are wrong. What she did was to make it like the wedding registry case described here - if one had to sell a servant, one should spread the information by word of mouth, not print in in pubic newspaper. Like in case of wedding registry - keeping one is not bad tone, just sending it with the wedding invitation is frowned at (did I understand it right?)

That's an interesting perspective.  I would describe most of the etiquette we talk about here "middle class/working class" etiquette, with just a few tiny vague remnants of "upper class" etiquette.    "Upper class" etiquette was at least in part meant to be a barrier , the rules were not written down and were so complicated if you were born into them you had little chance of learning them.

The wedding registry rule is simpler and not meant to hid something and I don;t think it evolved from a upper class rule. Its a from of  "You may not ask a person for a  gift."  Your selling servants example but not wanting to publicize the practice to avoid shame/ridicule/revolt  I think is more akin to a company not wanting to make public the fact their profits come from the terminal ill or they attempted to craft recipes that were addictive or a politician who is an atheist but who attends mass regularly(on the advice of his/her political party) because most of his/her constitutes are faithful. 

MY definition ..... A set of  well-known guidelines to facilitate  interpersonal relations and public interactions until mutually agreed terms are set(note additional terms may never be set).   


gellchom

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #10 on: December 26, 2013, 02:11:05 PM »
I love this discussion -- thank you for starting it!  And I am enjoying everyone's contributions.

I think that having good manners is not precisely defined by etiquette. 

Etiquette is a society's attempt to codify mannerly behavior and to establish conventions that avoid misunderstanding and help people know what to do without knowledge of any special circumstances. 

I love that we do that.  But just as our laws do not guarantee justice and our rules of grammar do not guarantee good writing, the rules of etiquette are imperfect, too.  It is possible to be faultless regarding etiquette rules and still be screamingly rude -- as well as unkind, selfish, passive-aggressive, and even cruel; I don't call such behavior "good manners."  And of course by the same token it is possible to violate etiquette rules without being rude or ill-mannered -- like sending back a response card rather than using your own stationery (with the lines centered), or writing "no gifts, please" on an invitation. 

I really like what China Shepherdess wrote:
Quote
When I'm considering my behavior and what to do in a situation, my personal etiquette gauge is: How would I feel if someone did this to me? How would I feel if a full-page description of this encounter ran on the front page of the newspaper? Am I being: fair? clear? direct? candid? kind? positive? empathetic? respectful to myself?

I like that.   I try to think of the people I admire and respect the very most.  How would they handle a situation?  How would they hope I would handle it?  The answer usually entails kindness and generosity of spirit.

It would be great if our etiquette rules were perfect guidelines for every occasion, but that's impossible -- just as it is for grammar rules.  That doesn't mean they aren't really rules, or that they aren't the best default position and starting point.  But it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!

SamiHami

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #11 on: December 26, 2013, 03:19:51 PM »
Etiquette is generally a set of standard behaviors that we can use as a guide to negotiate various circumstances without create offense along the way. For those gray areas where there isn't a cut-and-dried rule, the primary rule of etiquette comes into play-take whatever action that will create the least offense and the most goodwill.

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Sophia

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #12 on: December 26, 2013, 05:40:54 PM »
I think etiquette is an attempt to avoid hurt feelings and keep yourself out of trouble. 

I have a friend that says he has no natural personal skills.  None.  He said he totally relies on etiquette to give him rules to follow.  He is a programmer, so he approaches it like an if/then statement.  He said it has gotten him in trouble though.  He said if he hears , "I am sorry", his auto-response is "That is all right".  Except when his future wife was feeling low and said, "I am sorry that I am fat and ugly for you."  His auto-response kicked in, and the fact that he added "Dear" did not help. 

I also think knowing that there are rules can take the sting out of things.  If I were invited to a wedding without a guest back when I was merely dating DH, my feelings would not be hurt because I know that there is an etiquette rule saying that he doesn't have to be invited.  If I got to the wedding to discover that every other person was allowed random dates, THEN I would be hurt. 

I know some people think that it is only for the upper-class. But, I remember one of the etiquette mavens (maybe Miss Manners) point out that prisons have etiquette too.  It might have nothing to do with Thank You notes.  But, the stakes are higher.  It is just that there isn't books written about it. 


mbbored

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #13 on: December 26, 2013, 11:44:21 PM »
I think etiquette is an attempt to avoid hurt feelings and keep yourself out of trouble. 

I have a friend that says he has no natural personal skills.  None.  He said he totally relies on etiquette to give him rules to follow.  He is a programmer, so he approaches it like an if/then statement.  He said it has gotten him in trouble though.  He said if he hears , "I am sorry", his auto-response is "That is all right".  Except when his future wife was feeling low and said, "I am sorry that I am fat and ugly for you."  His auto-response kicked in, and the fact that he added "Dear" did not help. 

I also think knowing that there are rules can take the sting out of things.  If I were invited to a wedding without a guest back when I was merely dating DH, my feelings would not be hurt because I know that there is an etiquette rule saying that he doesn't have to be invited.  If I got to the wedding to discover that every other person was allowed random dates, THEN I would be hurt. 

I know some people think that it is only for the upper-class. But, I remember one of the etiquette mavens (maybe Miss Manners) point out that prisons have etiquette too.  It might have nothing to do with Thank You notes.  But, the stakes are higher.  It is just that there isn't books written about it.

I'm like your friend: etiquette gave me a series of guidelines that I use to navigate social situations. I'm a stereotypically socially awkward scientist and I love rules. Rules give me an internal flowchart of what to do. At first it was a bit of a "fake it till you make it" scenario, but now I don't have to think through appropriate things to do and say.

Sophia

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Re: What is the purpose of etiquette?
« Reply #14 on: December 27, 2013, 10:42:23 AM »
I remember a story from a Marie Antoinette biography.  The etiquette was that the highest status woman in the room got to dress her.  One cold morning, she had to stand there basically naked while one woman after another walked into her room.  Each was a higher status than the one before so they kept passing off the shift to the next person.  While she stood there very cold.  If I remember right, she ended up snatching it and putting it on herself while the other women clucked about how rude she was.
I try to remember that story when I need to remind myself that sometimes it is more polite to not follow etiquette.