By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
In this modern era peoples’ notion of values have changed. What we considered as things of value are no longer considered as such by the modern generation. Once certain things like courtesy, respect, integrity as well as morality and ethics were given high value, but not now. Today the most valued things come with price tags, because money is highly beneficial to us. In the present era people assess everything by how it will benefit them. Hedonism or pleasure seems to be standard of morality. Society once consisted of people who lived in peace and harmony. They helped one another like members of a family. Now society has turned into a group of selfish, greedy and self-absorbent people, who have not the least regard for others. The incessant craving for materialistic things has stunted the growth of kindness and generosity or lending a helping hand to others. So it is no wonder that what can only be seen is a steady decline of manners in the present day society. Young generation have lost their regards for the elderly people. Children are no longer obedient to the parents and for them it is not a sin to disregard parents or to neglect them. It is no longer necessary to extend a helping hand to the sick or the needy people. Self-interest reigns supreme in the present age. That is, I suppose, what is known as modernism. Morality is regarded as a thing of the past, valued only by the outdated people who may be termed as ancients.
As we move through our jam-packed lives we hurt many people with our rude behaviour. We may have done it intentiolly or unintentiolly. Yet the hurt is not less agonizing for that. ‘Loyalty’ has become just a meaningless word, ‘trust’ has become a fashion, and sympathy has lost its significance. Courtesy has almost ceased to exist in our lives. A way of behaviour which once came easy and tural to us is now ridiculed as irrelevant and not paid any attention to it. We have no idea why it has happened.
Now-a-days we come across many people suffering from depression, loneliness, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, anguish and frustration. Have we ever wondered why such things have happened? One of the reasons may be that we all are lacking positivity in our behaviour and in our approach to life. Human beings are gifted with a mind, which can improve their world and ture. It can be easily seen that though they are improving their world of technology enormously, they are definitely degrading it by losing their humanity as well. It is appalling if we consider how little sensitivity we bear towards each other. There is not even a spark of humanity in our insensate nerves. None feels any pity or sympathy for another and we have lost our values. Animals like dogs or cats or others fight amongst themselves, but only for survival and not for their selfish motives, as humans do. No other animals kill their own species mercilessly just for pleasure, humans being the only exception. Though human beings are supposed to be the highest product in the evolutiory process, their activities have made them the lowest of the low animals.
Leibnitz, the German philosopher had formulated the theory that our world is the best of all the possible worlds. He said that before creation God considered many worlds as probables. After consideration He selected our world as the best of all the possible worlds. He also said that God created man in his own image. It may be true. But it is obvious that with their cruel activities human beings have lost their exalted image, they do not have even a trace of godliness in them. They are also slowly destroying the world and all that is good in it. So man seems to have disposed what God proposed.
Good manners or courtesy do not cost us anything. Yet we seem reluctant to promote them. They are essential things in life, which encourage one to be tolerant, punctual, honest, respectful, loyal, considerate and polite. But we seem to have lost all our good manners. It is a great pity. Actually it is a fact that all those heinous activities prevailing in the present era, like robberies, revenge, murders, shootings, abductions, extortions and rape etc. are disturbing our society due to the rapid erosion of moral and social values amongst the people.
What harm is there to extend a bit of courtesy to the people around us or to those whom we come across every day? If they want to find some address you may perhaps offer to help them by pointing out the directions. If an elderly person leaves with his shopping bag you may perhaps hold the door open for a while. If you are young and are occupying a seat in a crowded bus, you may perhaps stand up and offer the seat to an elderly person. A simple “thank you” or a smile can do wonders. If you smile at an anxious foreigner, whom you do not know, his anxiety will disappear and he will give you a warm look with a smile. That is the amazing power of a smile. Then why remain stingy with a smile? If a new neighbour has come to settle near your home, a friendly greeting may make him settle in an easy and comfortable way and he will surely be happy with a friendly and kind person like you. Smiling at the shop keeper or letting a person take a seat beside you or helping an elderly person cross the road will not cost us anything but will let us lead a happy life.
In the present age being polite or well-mannered is not considered as a sign of being a good human being, but as a person, who does not have the guts to be rude or to be abusive. A lady I know prides herself on her ruthless manner of speaking. For her politeness is a kind of hypocrisy. Once she told me proudly, “I am not mealy-mouthed. A spade is a spade for me. I am proud of the fact that I am frank and outspoken and am not afraid of speaking the truth”. She did not realize how many people were hurt due to her blistering frankness. Truth is commendable, but bitter truth at all cost should be avoided. A little white lie does not hurt or harm anybody, but it brings a large amount of happiness to another. That is all that counts, I believe. As William Blake stated in “Auguries of Innocence”—
“A truth that is told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent”.
Sometimes you may be inclined to protest somebody’s view or decision. But protest should not mean hurling abusive words or using filthy language. Rudeness is nothing but the reflection of artificial strength of a weak person. As Mahatma Gandhi had stated non-violence can never be practiced by a weak person, it is the sign of strength. Only a strong person can be non-violent. A violent person is essentially a weak person. In the same way rudeness is cultivated only by a weak person, who pretends to be strong. That is his way to demonstrate his strength, to show that he cares for none. It is a pity that such misguided persons do not realize that really strong persons cannot be rude, they are always polite and well-behaved. They are not aware of how many enemies they create with their ill-manners.
We are living in a world where we see nothing but violence, rudeness and other ill manners. So in a world heavily adorned with criticism, vulgarity and even crudeness, a pinch of politeness or good manners can work wonders. It uvoidably involves all the little things we can do for somebody to make them feel comfortable, happy and a little less on the edge. The person may be a friend, a person in trouble or even a stranger. Hence we should be polite to everybody, regardless of his identity. This is only possible if we forgive the wrongdoings of others even if they themselves do not feel sorry about their misdeeds. Saying ‘sorry’ is not easy. It needs tremendous strength of mind to admit that he was wrong. Usually we never admit that we were in the wrong. But if only we can acquire the guts to say ‘sorry’, it will save relations and will remove acrimonious feelings.
But now-a-days all such good relations are breaking up or coming under stress. People have grown impatient and intolerant. They are quick to find faults in others and are uware of their own faults. It is the heart which is the most important of our faculties. It is often said that head should rule the heart. But I believe that heart should be given prominence in all our decision-making exercises.
We have to cultivate good manners to make the world happy and peaceful. There are three words which we should use frequently to make everybody happy. These words are “please, sorry and thank you”. They may be termed as magical words, because they work wonders. Simple use of them from the core of the heart gives satisfaction to one and all. If a little smile from one can spread love and joy and if a little bit of courtesy can teach people the real meaning of humanity and companionship then it is worth trying. It will benefit the individual beings as well as humanity as a whole. The feeling of content, happiness and love achieved by a little bit of good manners, is decidedly worth the effort. Some from the young generation may say that manners are not worthwhile. But they are wrong. Good manners are necessary to maintain peace, happiness and harmony amongst the people.
Kindness is a very powerful weapon and we may not be able to fathom its power. It makes way for a better society, one where people won’t point fingers at others and will rather do something better. Good manners or courtesy makes us better human beings. It will furnish us with a state of mind, which will be generous and kind. In that state of mind one could do the kindest deeds without expecting anything in return, because it is not fair to expect anything in return for some of our deeds of kindness. In that generous state of mind we attempt to cross the periphery of selfishness and stand on the edge of tarnished civility and may be try to sharpen it a bit. It feels good to know that despite the negativity surrounding us, some people have their values intact, which nobody can take away. This feeling of well-being does bring a ray of sunshine to our dull and drab life style.
That is what feels right and so good manners should certainly be maintained. Someone may be impolite, or hateful or rude towards some people and feel very good and proud temporarily. But afterwards on reflection he may feel sorry about it, since everyone has a conscience to answer to. Hate cannot drive out hate, but love can do it. Mahatma Gandhi had great regard for love. For him love is a kind of feeling of oneness. In an act of love one identifies himself with the object of his love and it cannot be possible unless there is an effort to free mind from every such disposition that prevents the spontaneous outflow of love. So there must be a sincere effort to free mind from feelings like anger, malice, hatred, revenge, jealousy etc, because they create obstacles in the way of love. According to Gandhi love is the energy that cleanses one’s inner life and uplifts him, and as such love comprehends such noble feelings as benevolence, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, generosity, kindness, sympathy etc. Hence being insolent towards those who behave that way with us will not help, but being well-mannered may make them realise their mistake and teach them something.
I remember the days when everybody appreciated good manners. If one was helped he never forgot to thank the person who helped him. People used to show gratitude and allegiance by counter helping them. If anybody idvertently hurt another, he invariably said ‘sorry’ for his mistake. But now this is not done. This is the era of nonchalance, then what is the use of appreciating courtesy and good manners, according to some people. It is quite blatant and obvious like most other ephemeral qualities of life; the notion of being well-behaved has become the most gratuitous. These days the school bullies are worshipped, the spoilt leaders are befriended. If one is wicked everyone will reward him. If you happen to be good and gentle you will be trampled by others.
It is said that children these days are ill-mannered. But it is not their fault. Lately the society has changed for the worse. It has forced the inevitable bad manners on everyone. It does not ensure perks for being good. It is true that if one is abused unjustly and assaulted again and again, he cannot or should not remain indifferent. Good manners do not imply that one should bear all the injustice heaped on him. Courtesy does not imply cowardice. You cannot preach morality and remain passive all the time. Morality is not meek submission to unjust behaviour of another. Self-denial is not proper under any circumstance. Still we must exercise ratiolity in leading our life. We should know that good manners do not imply passive acceptance of all kinds of rudeness hurled at us. We must be bold enough to stand against injustice. Yet good manners may be able to change another’s ill-treatment. If all the people become courteous and generous, the world will be a better place to live in and the nectar of happiness will flow unhindered. We may hopefully wait for that day when our good earth will be happy and peaceful.