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The Young Report: Manners on the Slide?

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A report out today by The Young Foundation suggests that we Britons are not as rude as some people may think we are, but yet when we see a lack of civility and respect our manners quickly slide and situations can escalate 'frighteningly fast'.

Britain as a country is not as polite and genteel as it once was, which is a shame. We now have these new means of interaction (mobiles, email, Twitter, Facebook, Skype and so on) and unlike something like table manners, the rules for which have been around for eons and most people know - even if they eschew them, as a society we are still finding our feet as to what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to modern interaction.

For example, most people now know that when on a train it is unacceptable, and superfluous, to shout down the phone with the words 'I'm on a train'. Very few people, mercifully, start a conversation in this clichéd manner anymore. (Although a lot of people are still using mobile phones in the quiet carriages of trains.) Yet with newer inventions like iPods and music players, some of us are still finding our feet. When I bump into friends in the street who have been listening to their own devices, it's amazing how many refuse to remove both headphones - at most they will just remove one, whilst continuing to listen to their music with just one headphone. A few months ago I actually saw a friend and had a 5-minute chat whilst both headphones remained in, even though they had paused the music. The whole thing was bizarre and off-putting. They should have had the respect for me, as a fellow human (and not a piece of technology), to remove their gadget and give me the time of day to chat. By leaving the headphones in it implied that speaking to me was a general inconvenience - which maybe it was, but nonetheless the headphones should have been removed.

The Young Report talks about civility 'myths', and one myth often peddled is that the younger generations are the rudest. Well, yes, I agree. Although I would add this - it was the generations above that raised this ruder, less respectful, generation and so surely they are the ones to blame? Although the younger generations should not just excuse their behave by pointing the finger to their parents, but instead they should take the initiative to practice civility and respect at all times, regardless of what they may have been taught (or not) at home.

Manners will always be needed so long as humans walk this planet. Some people think they are not needed, wasteful, a callback to a by-gone age. Phish and tosh. The people who believe that are often the ones who need to be shown compassion and pity as they are mis-guided and probably not shown much respect by others and so have become contemptuous.

I am currently in The Netherlands for a Protocol Conference, which many average people would find bizarre. Protocol is basically an advanced form of etiquette - mostly used in Royal, diplomatic or political situations, but now also in business. One of my fellow speakers yesterday said in a meeting that protocol was having to be re-branded as 'relationship management' in order to get people to pay attention to it and see its importance. And that is really all manners are about too - managing relationships with other people. Okay, day-to-day manners may vary from day-to-day protocol (which concerns itself with which side the host country's flag goes), but they are vital; they will always be vital. And if people don't like it then I suggest they reevaluate their life.

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