The beginning of the end of politeness?

I have to say that one of my favorite generations of politeness would’ve been either the Victorian era or the 1950s. While life was not perfect, it was not just, it was not equal … people were really polite.

I don’t think we have to go backwards, but I feel like we do need to take a step away and look at the way that we have become accustomed to talking to each other, specifically social media.

I teach public speaking at a local college and I find that a third of my time is spent in talking to students about what kind of words are appropriate or not appropriate as well as tone and demeanor! In general I teach politeness.

There is an assumption that as you grow up and “move up the food chain” , working, socializing, that you learn certain ways of talking and learn selective language skills. Of course we also learn social skills as a foundation from our parents, but not everyone has the same expectations or rules of their children. I taught my sons are to say hello to guests, no matter how much teen angst they have brewing. My rules! They also shake hands with people upon meeting them. My rules! I’m a “communications” teacher for heavens sake! Other parents have other rules so I’m not saying mine are “right”, just within my expectations of manners. Culture is also a big influence on manners as it influences gender roles, customs and our approach to small talk and politeness. Overall in the United States we tend to be more upfront “to the point” and aggressive in our demeanor of talking that other cultures, but ironically we have a bigger personal bubble of space around us that other cultures, some of which are “close talkers”.

Most professionals or adults in the United States have pretty good politeness skills or “social barometers” of what is acceptable, but I find that this does not seem to apply to social media. People say terrible things to each other, behind the veil or the mask of interpersonal communication. What’s up with that?

I think it’s the anonymity of social media that makes people think they can say terrible things. But this applies to friends on chats as well. I think people don’t realize that it’s really a form of public speaking. Much like what I teach (informative, entertaining, persuasive talking) and basically standing in front of a group of people giving a speech. it is also true what and how you talk to others does say more about you as an individual than it does about the other person.

I hope that we’re not losing our humanity and humility of talking to each other and I also hope we come to a “renaissance age of social media”, whereas elegance like the 50’s or Victorian politeness (despite economic or education) can still be impactful on how we treat our beautiful, bigger and more connected world.

Otherwise I do see a future whereas high schools and colleges not only require public speaking classes, but social media speaking classes as well.


Andrea Leppert
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