“Nothing is less important than which fork use. Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor.”
~ Emily Post
Does etiquette still have a place in the modern world? Many ask themselves this question and wonder what is the point of caring. It doesn’t seem that etiquette is a necessity. The rules of engagement in society are changing as fast as a Twitter post. The younger generation challenges the older (a tale as old as time) and there is a tension between tradition and modernity.
For a long time, etiquette has been associated with the upper echelon, the affluent and the wealthy. It is viewed as a divide that shuns the common and lay people. In this regard, etiquette has been maltransformed and misconstrued from its original intent that gives the primary reason you should care about etiquette nowadays.
There are numerous reasons you should care about etiquette nowadays, none of which would incumber your modern lifestyles. Etiquette is a way of living for the better and simplicity. The truth is every society has a form of etiquette and is the better for it when properly implemented. Etiquette changes in form, but its essence begs reasons you should care about it.
What is etiquette?
If one goes straight away to the dictionary, it will be found that etiquette is “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.” This is very official and elitist sounding, right? Let’s break this down, looking at etymology and use.
Etiquette is derived from the French, “estique” which means to attach. This was taken to describe behavior requirements in accordance with societal conventions of the time. These requirements were not written and were understood as an unwritten code behavior, designed to ease social interactions in both business and personal lives. As it is not written in stone, the rules for dictating behavior were communally understood as correct and acceptable. Etiquette encompassed rules “attached” to a specific society.
Here it is important to point out that etiquette should not be confused with manners. They are not the same thing. Manners are general behavioral guidelines the reflect who you are and tend to stay consistent no matter the location, like greeting elders, saying thank you, and helping others. Etiquette is a set of rules or customs regarded as appropriate in a specific society and can change due to culture and location. Both, however, can impact that first impression.
Examining the definitions gives a technical view of etiquette. To understand why you should care about etiquette nowadays, I find it important to pair the technical with the purpose and application.
Still technical sounding, yes, but stay with me.
The essence of etiquette
Etiquette is all about behavior. Behavior influences your life. We are taught from a young age what is acceptable behavior and how we ought to conduct ourselves in different environments from work, to school, to home. So, we have to assess our behavior in different environments (e.g. workplace, business event, gala) and find out what is the best way to proceed in them (i.e. how should I act?).
The essence of etiquette is respecting your neighbors, exemplifying virtues and being considerate wherever you go. This permits that etiquette can be surmised as following a determined mode of behavior that is observed in a specific setting (society, social environment) making engagement easier and showing respect, courtesy, and cultural understanding. This takes into consideration how the unwritten code of behavior changes depending on the type, location, and purpose of social interactions.
It falls back to context.
Where am I? What am I doing? How do I get the best result here? How am I showing respect and presenting my best self?
If you are at a gala, you should not show up in Daisy Dukes and sneakers. If you are at a line dancing party, you can. If you are at museum, you are not running through it screaming at the top of your lungs. If you are at a Halloween event at an amusement park (e.g. Halloween Horror Nights), no one will look at you sideways if you do.
It comes down to where you are, what creates ease in the environment, what shows cultural sensitivity, and how you present your best self in a given place. You are not forcing change where you go but moving with ease and showing respect in given places. Do you have to follow them? No. But will you get a better result when you do? More than likely, yes.
Etiquette in life
Think of etiquette as a behavior a coach. A coach cannot dictate what you do but encourage you to make the best and most advantageous or productive steps in your life. They can also map out the best courses of action and strategy, all of which involves phases, processes, and procedures to get achieve a best desired outcome. No matter where you live, you are part of a society (unless you are a hermit) and will need to know what to do operate in that society.
Etiquette is an excellent display of cultural understanding. Cultural understanding shows a departure form exclusivity and heart for openness, civility, and global community. In practicing etiquette, you become open and cognizant of your environment being mindful of the nuances, intricacies, and customs there.
Take for instance a Japanese Tea ceremony. Proper etiquette would have you be punctual, remove shoes, dress in traditional garments or conservative clothing, and observe the order of guest sitting. There are other intricate details involved in the ceremony that should be taken into consideration. It would be indecent, out of order, and culturally disrespectful, to otherwise, like keep you shoes on in the team room.
Respect, consideration, principle, and good character are not antiquated ideas. It is showing the highest form of humanity. Etiquette does the opposite of restricting your behavior but instead helps you exhibit the best in kindness, generosity, cultural respect, integrity, humility, consideration, politeness, selflessness, honesty, and courtesy.
At any given point in life, there are times when things (i.e. behavior) are appropriate and inappropriate and etiquette helps with navigating this. It can feel quite strange to be in a place and not know how to act. Etiquette provides confidence and comfort for any type of engagement and professional and personal progression.
For anyone pursuing an elegant lifestyle this is a key standard. Etiquette involves significant facets of elegant lifestyle and simply living well. It is a part of your image and therefore your person. Etiquette creates space to move graciously and gracefully.
Keeping in mind that etiquette is based on social customs and societies change over time, it can be concluded that etiquette changes over time. For this reason, it is still relevant for modern times because every modern society flourishing has its own code of behavior, and therefore, its own form of etiquette. While there are timeless behaviors, contemporary etiquette will absorb social changes.
So, consider how you are living. Are you living with consideration for others or the individual? You are a sum of your character, actions and values and etiquette offers a roadmap while living. Etiquette is less about excluding people and more about being conscious of people, how they feel, what they think, their culture, and showing respect. In observing etiquette where you go, you can position yourself for better success.