Are Manners Driving Us Mad?

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Reader columnist Emma Barrington, a freelance writer, wonders if we are too nice a nation.

Yes. I admit it. I was one of many who fell for Mancunian rough man Shaun Ryder’s unlikely charms in 2010’s I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. Is it just me who is tired of all the pleasantries, the candy-coated niceties and fained interest of 21st century social habituation? And how true it rang when sharp-tongued, quick-witted Jenny Eclair described her time in the jungle with the aforementioned Mr Happy Mondays as being fabulously refreshing. Now, I am not condoning arrogance, blatant rudeness or outright disregard for the etiquette learned over the years, but Britain? Let’s keep it real.

I started thinking recently about the boundaries between good manners, passive aggression and subtle insincerity in certain day-to-day situations, and concluded that the distinction between the three is often muddied. Moreover, what I really crave now is to be told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s not about being nasty, insensitive or tactless. Rather, it’s about reserving nice for when nice is unarguably appropriate or indeed deserved – and about feeling free to be assertive when necessary.

It is no secret that us Poms are known for our cool, collected demeanour but something’s got to give. With any build-up of pressure there has to be a release - a rumbling volcano doesn’t remain dormant for long - and this, I am convinced, is one of the reasons why as a country we have such an inclination towards excessive and addictive behaviours. Repressed irritation and unexpressed expectations are manifesting like pockmarks on the volatile skin of our stressed out population.

With any build-up of pressure there has to be a release - a rumbling volcano doesn’t remain dormant for long.

Another archetype of the classic Brit is the boozing, blaspheming ball of liability that can be spotted at many a pub-pavement interface on a Saturday night. One nation, two stereotypes at polar ends of the spectrum of social behaviour, but take the sobriety of one and the readiness to express of the other, mix it up with a dash of diplomacy and a hint of eloquence and I reckon you’re on to a winner. Give me the honesty of a drunk, minus the drink.

Glossing over the gory details in everyday interactions can not only lead to pent up frustration, but can also insidiously eat away at self-worth and leave unclear the true dynamics of fundamental relationships.

The contradiction of happy-on-the-outside/aggrieved-on-the-inside creates a confusing dichotomy. Take the example of the daily commute. On one hand we are apologising for obstructing the paths of those in a greater hurry than ourselves ('You kicked me in the calves on the way down to the Piccadilly Line / I’m ever so sorry for getting in the way'), yet on the other we’re cursing under our breath for being jostled and trodden on.

Facebook also provides an interesting example. When posed with an unwanted friend request (queue psychotic ex-lovers and estranged childhood antagonists) it is no longer even an option to simply decline. Where is the straightforward 'no'? Can the collective conscious no longer handle handing out an uncomplicated, honest rejection? It would seem not.

It’s a complex issue I know, and maybe the ability and the willingness to put people at ease and smooth out any tensions are indicative of superior social skills or, in the workplace, of being business savvy. Perhaps being overly nice is a method of self-preservation and a subconscious attempt to maintain an optimistic outlook. And maybe, just maybe, it’s because at the end of the day we all just want to be liked.

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Picture credit: Rex Features