I’m really aware of the irony of what I am about to write, given that this blog is all about not being too sure about those social niceties that keep society rolling along nicely. But there is one social nicety that I am very good at, and that I think is really important: manners.
Words like thank you and excuse me and sorry. That little wave you give someone when they make room for you to change lanes. Turning your phone off when you’re at the cinema, and having it on silent when you’re in a meeting or having coffee with a friend. Things that, essentially, boil down to one simple thing: respect.
I’ve noticed a real decline in these things, and have been known to call people out on it when required. Beloved and I were at the movies a week or so ago, and there was a teenage boy talking (not texting) on his phone during the film. I leaned over and told him to turn the phone off. He did. Quickly. And shrunk down in his seat. Spotlight (an Australian craft/material/linen/homewares store) is notorious for having extremely rude staff, and also magically morphing their customers into rude and obnoxious people who will stab each other when it comes to the final ball of red wool or the unfair cutting of fabric. It’s really quite bizarre.
Beloved and I had a peculiar experience a couple of weeks ago. We heard the neighbour’s dog barking, quite frantically. Now, we had never heard this dog bark like this before. It was non stop. It went on… and on… and on. The dog’s human has a disability, and when we worked out that this dog had been barking like this for almost three hours non stop, we decided we had to act. Beloved knocked on the door, no answer. She could hear the television, but there were no lights on (by this stage it was night time). She knocked again, and could hear the dog inside, but still, no answer. So we did what seemed appropriate. We called the local police and explained the situation.
They came, knocked, heard what we heard and saw what we saw. They went around the back. The dog would not come out through the dog door. The police called the home, and the phone was answered, but nobody spoke. The police saw appropriate to bang down the back door. Turns out the dog can knock the phone off the hook, and the neighbour was not home. The police left a note, explaining what had happened.
Fast forward a couple of hours and there is a pounding at our door. It’s the neigbour. We explained why we called the police and while he was thankful and understanding, he was annoyed. Then the neighbour’s brother rode up. Threw his bike on the ground. Stormed up our driveway yelling abuse. We were scared. They left. The neighbour returned later and apologised for his brother’s outburst.
We thought that was the end of it, until we had another knock at the door, a few days later, at around 9pm.
It was the neighbour.
And if you have seen a grown man cry, you know that something bad has happened.
His little dog had been hit by a car, and can we please help? Of course we could. We made calls, we drove him and his little dog to the after hours vet. We sat with him as his support people. We made cuppas and explained what the vet was saying. We helped out with paperwork. We spoke to the vet about our neighbour and explained that he was currently living on his own because his parents were on holidays, and that he had limited funds til his parents returned. The vets were awesome and worked within that budget. We got them home again. Talked to the neighbour the next day. His brother came over, too, and apologised for his behaviour when he yelled at us and thanked us for helping.
To date? We haven’t heard boo from the parents. Now, these are two pretty significant things to occur when your son is living alone while you are on holidays. At the least we expected another volley of abuse because of the broken back door. At most, a thank you and maybe an update on the dog.
For the brother to come and apologise, and also to thank us – it made us feel good. But manners aren’t about making someone else feel good. I have been thinking about this, and I think manners are more about showing that you know other people matter.
I think that’s what it comes down to.
You know that other people matter. Or, as I said earlier: Respect.
But then in my want for manners, am I not respecting the right of my neighbour’s parents to just want to move on from the incidents? I am not respecting the right for people to “forget” to say thank you, their right to use their phone?
But as fas as I’m concerned? If I let you merge in front of me? I want that wave.