When I joined a company some forty years ago, I was a novice in the true sense. On the 1st day itself the big boss called me for some urgent work. I walked in to his cabin even without knocking the door! He raised his head and smiled. “Yes” he said surprised at my naive entry. He asked me to sit and made me comfortable in a new environ. And then he said to me gently, “You are altogether new it seems. You must greet when you meet first. Say good morning! Yah?” I felt inexplicably embarrassed, but concealed my feeling, and expressed my gratitude for his kind gesture. That was perhaps my first lesson on ‘manners & etiquette’.
Of course, it is not that our teachers haven’t taught this albeit implicitly. But there were no separate sessions on ‘manners’. Our HM used to be very strict. Once I recall him saying in the assembly, “We are all in a civilized society, and we cannot tolerate any indiscipline. So behave well, conduct yourself in a manner that others would envy you”. Those days in a rural setting, you hardly had any exposure to the world outside.
When you are thrown open to the competitive corporate world, you get to learn things the hard way. However efficient you may be in your allotted work, you cannot go very far in your vocation, unless you can get along with people and are liked by them. “Efficiency performs, etiquette establishes,” says Eric Watson. Etiquette is a necessity for a person who is efficient because that alone could assure his success and improve his periphery. Conversely, lack of etiquette is enough to spoil the show in any set-up, and it may breed secret animosity, ill-feeling or displeasure.
The bearing, the disposition, the demeanour and the poise determine the pattern of our life. As a child, one should learn to keep one’s bearing and dignity in all circumstances. There are bedroom manners, drawing-room manners, manners at home, school and outside. The essence of etiquette lies in self-control, the exercise of which has to be initiated early in life.
Family is the basic closely knit unit in any community. It grows under the fostering cocoon-like spinning and contribution of different members in the family. If the relationship between different members is built on the sound foundations of love and mutual assistance, children and adults alike may grow to fulfil themselves in life. The father, the mother, the brothers, the sister, the servants, and even the pets have their own place in the family and the proper etiquette that may be stressed in the family is to behave in a manner so as not to hurt another member, but to encourage him or her for betterment.
For a person who goes for an interview for a job, one of the first things he should learn is how to sit properly. The way he puts out his hands marks the quality of his character and his nature. Standing is sometimes more difficult than sitting. There are various modes of standing depending on the occasion. While taking care of a VIP, for instance, you have to adopt a posture of readiness instead of one of absolute composure and complacence.
Our social contacts necessitate speaking. Speaking is the main ingredient of good manners and the art of speaking softly and gently produces a feeling of maximum civility. If you are a party-goer, you should be conversant with the party manners, including table manners and etiquette. Cultural and religious ceremonies are special occasions when everyone concerned should bring forth his or her best to give the required tone and spirit to the occasion.
I have seen in the US and Europe strangers greeting each other. ‘You first’ attitude is always displayed in public places. Vehicles are stopped to help pedestrians cross the road. People simply look for opportunities to be empathetic and helpful to fellow-beings. Beggars are rare. If at all one or two are noticed with a placard, people stop the vehicles to drop a few dollars. The beneficiaries gracefully and gratefully acknowledge the benevolence.
Indeed, good manners are just a way of showing the others that we have respect for them. Life may be short, but there’s always enough time for courtesy! Margaret Walker rightly said that ‘friends and good manners will carry you where money can’t go’!
- P. K. Balasubramanian