Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Death of Decorum

Decorum is defined as: dignity or good taste that is appropriate to a specific occasion.

A few years ago, most people would have avoided a social situation entirely rather than to participate and do the wrong thing. It would have been a horrible violation of decorum to use the wrong fork at a dinner or be observed applying lipstick in public.

People used to watch their grammar to avoid sounding uneducated. We would usually look around before blowing our noses or -- horror! -- burping or belching in public. Such disgusting social mistakes demonstrated that we were completely unschooled in social behavior, unruly beasts captured in the wild which had failed to adapt to our new surroundings.

Something has changed since those days. Decorum appears to be a thing of the past, along with table manners, the art of conversation, discretion and personal responsibility. Many of these antique behaviors have gone the way of buggy whips and corset stays.

Too bad.

My awareness of these social modifications must have occurred slowly and overtime.

Perhaps it began when a woman I had worked with talked incessantly about her daughter's approaching marriage. I was not invited to a shower or the wedding and didn't know the couple well. But they were both young, working and going to school, so I recognized that they were having a tough time. I also knew they were fond a certain chain store located in a town nearby. So I drove to the store, got them a small gift card which I enclosed with a nice note and delivered it to the couple. A few days later I received a note from the bride saying she would try not to spend it all in one place. No mention of "thank you" or any similar expression.

One day while talking with an older gentlemen, our conversation turned to cell phones and how rude people have become, often taking calls while performing other work and ignoring human beings who might actually be present. My friend told me that the most inappropriate cell phone call he had ever seen was while the call recipient was in line at a funeral home, waiting to view the deceased. The cell phone rang and the receiver of the call launched into a loud and joyous conversation directly above the casket without regard for the circumstances.

While at work in an office once, another secretary and I were diligently focused on the tasks at hand. I began to hear a small noise, a clicking sound, which repeated every few seconds. I finally looked at the other worker and asked, "What is that noise?" She said, "Oh, that's Tom clipping [all of] his nails. He says he can't do a good job at home and the light here is so much better." This was in his office in the middle of the day.

Modern society is certainly more relaxed than, say, 20 years or so ago. Workplace dress codes have relaxed since the introduction of "casual Friday." Life activities also require less formality with regard to dining out and entertaining in our homes. In some instances, casual living is a good idea since many people work long hours and have little time to spend with family and friends.

Many years ago, women had to wear gloves to be properly dressed. I was quite small at the time and the requirement related to me only on Easter Sunday and other church events. I don't think we need to return to such formality and structure as existed then.

But what the heck happened? It's not unusual everyday to see people in public wearing inappropriate clothing doing inappropriate things and looking as though they slept in the car overnight. How about making a little effort? It is relatively easy and can take only minutes to cover up the things that don't need to be shown and washing the rest.

We would all appreciate it.

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