Archive: October 15th, 2009

Climate Change

It’s Blog Action Day, the annual blogging event that “unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day on their own blogs with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance.” Last year’s theme was Poverty.

This year’s theme is Climate Change.

The idea, of course, is to talk about the environment. Global Warming. Melting Ice Caps. Severe storms. Acid Rain (remember that?).

These are all important topics, of course, but I figure my fellow bloggers have that covered. What I want to talk about is more the social climate. This is a blog of writing and good manners, after all, and it seems that the good manners most of us grew up with are slipping away.

Let me tell you a story. When I went to my junior prom, way back in 1984, my date … well, he drove me nuts. He was determined to adhere to all of the rules of etiquette and to be a perfect gentleman. I appreciate good manners, of course, but he took this to extremes. He didn’t just hold the door open for me, which is reasonable, but he made a point of walking on the outside of the sidewalk. He didn’t just hold my chair when I sat down to dinner (which, since I was wearing the oh-so-trendy hoop skirt a la Molly Ringwald’s bridesmaid’s dress in Sixteen Candles was actually quite helpful), he also politely waited for me outside the ladies room.

His argument? That his family had recently been out with his grandmother and she told him that it was nice to see a young man with such good manners. Well! You can imagine how thrilled that made me, because what 17-year old girl isn’t delighted to be compared to her date’s grandmother?

The point, though, is that the good manners his grandmother was so delighted to see were already falling out of fashion in 1984. Not only were standards relaxing, but there were rampaging feminists taking offense at innocent door-holdings. (“What? You don’t think I’m capable of opening a door for myself?”)

Manners have consequently only gotten worse.

We live in a world where so many things are instantaneous. Have a question? Check the internet. Want coffee? Go to Starbucks. Need to ask your mother how to cook a roast? Pull out your cell phone. Short of matter transmission, there aren’t many things any of us really need to wait for any more. Long gone are those lazy days when you would write a letter, put it in an envelope, hand it to your friendly mail-carrier and then wait a week for a reply. Now we have faxes, email, mobile phones … not to mention instant messaging and online conferencing. Twitter. Facebook.

Meteorologists talk about globally shifting weather patterns which are causing more intense storms–record-breaking hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, and wildfires are all over the news, as are the less flamboyant but equally severe extremes like droughts and heat waves.

More and more, it seems to me that we are suffering from similar firestorms of bad manners–massive shifts in behavior, in patience, in basic courtesy. Changes in trends that have gently sloped over decades and that have recently spiked into outbursts of rage and basic rudeness, simply because it’s more acceptible than it was in the past.

Climates change. Emotional, physical, and social. Sometimes there are causes that can be seen or measured, sometimes there are not.

But it is always important to take note of the changes. There are reasons we have scientists recording tiny bits of data in weather stations around the globe–because you can’t always see the changes as they happen. It’s not until later that you look  back and see that the change started here.

Sometimes a 17-year old boy in a rented tux is just being faintly ridiculous (and annoying) because he doesn’t want to embarrass himself on a date. Sometimes he’s a metaphor for an entire metaphysical shift in the cultural mores of an entire civilization.

The trick is knowing which is which … before it’s too late to do anything about it.