DEAR MISS MANNERS: Civility seems to be the issue of the day. Politicians talk about it, foundations support groups to study it, and everyone grumbles about how mean and antagonistic everyone is.
After all this, as far as I can see, the only change has been for the worse. Maybe nothing can be done. Do you agree? And where does etiquette fit into the discussion?
GENTLE READER: It usually doesn’t, which is one reason for the lack of progress in reaching the state of civility everyone claims to want.
The primary reason is that while we all want to be treated with respect and consideration and to live in pleasant communities, few seem to understand that this would also require them to treat others with respect and consideration.
But there is also that matter of obeying etiquette rules. Rules restrict freedom. So even people who may agree to the principles of manners balk at the idea of following the particular, arbitrary rules of surface behavior in whatever subsection of society they happen to be in.
They will decide for themselves what is proper behavior.
And that is exactly the problem.
Some believe that their sense of virtue entitles them to be rude, if not violent, to those of whom they disapprove. Others decide that pesky little rules, such as answering invitations or expressing gratitude, are an unnecessary bother.
So the courtesies, big and small, fall out of use, and people begin to suspect that they are being shown a lack of respect. They get angry. To retaliate, they unfortunately turn rude.
Miss Manners is sorry to present such a dismal picture of society. But you already knew that. What she needs to point out is that it is in everyone’s interest, even the most selfish, to behave civilly.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am on dialysis three days a week for kidney failure. I have what’s called an AV fistula in my upper left arm, which is my access site for dialysis.
Because I have been on dialysis for 11 years, my access site has two large bumps from repeated needle sticks, in addition to a scar from the crook of my arm to just below my shoulder.
When I wear short-sleeve shirts (which is year-round, since I live in the desert), I often get stares, which is fine; people can look at whatever they would like. However, I do get comments along the lines of, “What happened to your arm?” or worse, “What’s wrong with your arm?”
When I’m feeling instructive, sometimes I will patiently explain about dialysis, then wait for the “sorry I asked” look. When I’m not feeling instructive, I usually look at my right arm, which is perfectly average, and ask what they mean. Sometimes that deflects the question, sometimes not.
Is there a better way to handle these types of questions while maintaining some degree of good humor? I don’t want to be rude and say it’s none of their business.
GENTLE READER: The polite way to say “none of your business” is, “Thank you, but you needn’t concern yourself.”