We are told that our constant care should be to correct the manners of men in society. All cultures are likely to have different rules. To what sort of manners is the doctrine referring? I think that Emily Post (1872 or 1873 - 1960), daughter of a wealthy American architect, defined what we could call “masonic manners” when she said “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.” Nevertheless, there is a code.
The etiquette to which we subscribe has its roots in England in the eighteenth century. The notion of etiquette is French and arose from practices at the court of Louis XIV (from the French étiquette and used in English since 1750). An important aspect of our etiquette is table manners in The South. We have all been told in our youth that a table knife is not held like a pen, a fork is not used with the tines uppermost, you do not reach across a table in front of somebody, soup is drunk from a certain side of a bowl, there is a delicate art to remove meat from bones without picking them up, plates are not pushed away when your meal is completed and you do not comment on how much anyone else eats or does not eat, and so on. Furthermore, you do not fill more than one glass with wine or beer as an opportunity presents itself, eat too quickly or “bolt” your food, and generally overeat, or “pig it” – such behaviour, to put it most generously, may indicate that you have a large uncontrolled appetite but most people will come a more harsh conclusion. All these things may make others feel uncomfortable.
When we got older we may have been told that you don’t put your hand over the top of a glass: just say “no thanks” when you do not want more. You do not ask someone if they want “another” drink as it could suggest that they have consumed too much already – just ask “may I pour you a drink”. Unless you are in a Sergeants’ Mess you should not stand or be asked to stand for the proposition of a toast and certainly do not lift your glass from the table until the toast itself, ie the words “The Queen”: to do otherwise would put pressure on the speaker to finish his proposition quickly.
Etiquette is one aspect of decorum, it is a code that governs the expectations of social behaviour according to the conventional norm within a society, social class, or group. It has developed so that people feel comfortable in a situation. Etiquette prescribes and restricts the ways in which people interact with each other, and show their respect for other people by conforming to the norms of society and in our case, masonic activities. However some, unfortunately, use it to try and make others think they are from a higher social class and have a prestigious social standing. Elitists, snobs, and invariably boring!
Etiquette provides the guide lines on how people greet friends and acquaintances with warmth and respect, refrain from insults and prying curiosity, offer hospitality equally and generously to guests, wear clothing suited to the occasion, contribute to conversations without dominating them, offer assistance to those in need, eat neatly and quietly, avoid disturbing others with unnecessary noise, follow the established rules of an organization upon becoming a member, arrive promptly when expected, comfort the bereaved, and respond to invitations promptly. In our culture there is a variation in etiquette for men and women.
Manners and etiquette continue to change and there are now “internet manners”. The internet code includes not using an e-mail address group for other than the intended purpose or passing it on without approval from the originator, on-forwarding personal messages, and not swamping others with unsolicited material of so called “jokes”, moralistic and evangelical messages and so on, especially if they comprise large data files. There are also “road manners” and others, too.
The use of language is important. It is safe if there is no discussion on politics, religion or women. Some in the 1980s would also have said by some that we should all be politically correct but as you know I deplore that notion: all so sterile and it imposes an artificial morality.
Before we start correcting the manners of men in society at large we would be well advised to first be sure that our own house in order.
Fraternal best wishes to all