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Can we stop letting ourselves go, please?

Another nice Laurence Fellows (or Leslie Saalberg?) illustration from way back when.

I had another one of 'those' emails waiting for me this morning.  You know the kind.  Written in the heat of the moment, it started with, "It must really give you a charge to look down on other people. . ."  before devolving quickly into various expletives, misspelled words, and the occasional grammatical error sprinkled throughout the e-tirade.  Blah, blah.  Blah, blah.  Blah, blah.  

Clearly, frank discussion about cultivating a more polished appearance and more polite conduct rubs some people the wrong way for whatever reason.  But as the tagline of The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style suggests, we don't mince words around here.  And while I neither have the time, nor inclination to address the rather nasty message sent to me point by point, I will say this.  What is genuinely distressing is that we have let ourselves go as a society in the last few decades.  If that makes me a snob and an elitist, so be it.  

Of course, you cannot live your life longing for the return of hats, walking sticks, gloves, and calling cards for gentlemen.  Neither can we reverse various trends of the last 50+ years, many of which have done society a lot of good.  But where common courtesy, decency, politeness, pleasant conduct, and a basic standard of acceptable appearance are concerned?  There is no way you can argue that we have not allowed ourselves to slide, and in many instances just plain let ourselves go, during the same span of time.  

The causes are many, no doubt, so we can't simply attribute our collective disheveled nature to the tech boom at the end of the 20th century, the rise of the (too) casual workplace, reality TV and the worship of so called celebrities (many of whom behave terribly), or the arrival of grunge music and fashion in the early 90s.  Neither can we place all of the blame at the feet of the baby boomers, many of whom rejected the ideals of their WWII and Korean War-era parents during the late 60s and early 70s.  And it's not simply because of the Internet and readily accessible social media either.  

Whatever might be behind it, it is safe to say that there are many factors contributing to the marked decline of good manners and polite behavior in recent decades.  For the moment, let's just include dressing presentably as part of that.  Determining the precise origins of our current malaise, though, must remain the preserve of sociologists, social anthropologists, and social historians out there. For any ABD's in those fields, who might be reading this blog, there is bound to be at least a conference paper or journal article that, potentially, could be spun out of a close study of the topic.

Returning to the point at hand, though, consider this.  Is it really in our best interest to continue allowing ourselves to sink to the lowest common denominator where our thoughts, attitudes, habits, practices, how we speak, and what we talk about are concerned?  That might seem, at first glance, a more egalitarian and democratic approach because no one has to aspire to anything better, and, therefore, nothing is beyond the reach of anyone.  It is certainly the path of least resistance.  We simply exist amid our stinking clutter at home, wear pilled fleeces and/or polyester shirts with the company logo to our dreary, florescent-lighted cubicles at work -- as mind-numbing and soul destroying in its own way as assembly line work in heavy industry before the bottom fell out -- or shamble along the street in a cloud of barely contained rage at whatever we might perceive at the moment to be the root cause of our unhappiness and discontent, everything and everyone else around us be damned.  You know?  "Better get out of my way, or I'll mess you the #@!%&* up chump!"  

Sloppiness, in its various permutations, tends to beget sloppiness, though, which is what makes too many people in 2015 rather unpleasant company when you get right down to it.  Now, I realize that is not everyone.  I, likewise, hardly suggest we turn back the clock to 1955 and slavishly ape the idealized nuclear families portrayed on television situation comedies like Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, or Ozzie and Harriet (although I must admit to wearing my heels and pearls while running the vacuum cleaner around the first floor earlier this afternoon. . .  just kidding!).  It seems to me, however, that we as a society, and as individuals, ought to get a grip on ourselves.  We desperately need to start thinking a little more about others than has become the accepted norm, (re-) discover our self-respect, and then make some serious adjustments to our daily thought, behavior patterns, appearance, and speech. . .  both at home and in public.  

It's time to give that pendulum of changing attitudes and related behaviors a little push to help it swing the other way.  Don't you think?  So let's all interact with at least a modicum of polite consideration, pull up our pants, tuck in our shirts, and brush our hair.  Let's also wipe our noses from time to time and wash the sleep from our eyes.  It would sure make getting along much easier and more pleasant.  For everyone.  And who knows?  More people might actually turn out to be more likeable as a result of closer attention to their own daily upkeep and presentation.  It's just a thought.

-- Heinz-Ulrich


Anonymous said…
Self respect is demonstrated in many ways in societies around the world. Some of the most common evidence of self respect for one's self and others is seen in a persons language, dress, manners, hygene, values of education, formal and vocational, relationships with peers, the opposite sex, older generation, the disadvantaged, parents, treatment of animals and the enviornment to name but a few. It has become common when in public places and groups to observe slovenly dress, hear bad language, insults toward the opposite sex and others. More times than not those who take pride in their appearance by dressing properly for the occasions are people you would like to have as a friend. The image they project of themselves by their choice of dress indicates the respect they have for themselves and others. Apathy in dress, language, hygene, manners and relationships many times results from low self esteem, lack of pride and hopelessness. Being well dressed or properly dressed takes thought about how one wants to be seen and thought of. Not caring is sad.
Agreed. Terribly sad. Dressing and behaving better/presentably might help a lot of people to feel just a bit better about themselves.

Best Regards,

Heinz-Ulrich von B.
OldSchool said…
Civilization is a matter of attaching importance to details. Some of the areas concerned are manners, dress, and language. Some of us are fortunate enough to have lived in decades when paying attention to such matters was far more common than it is today. Reminding others of proper modes of behaving, dressing, and speaking is not a matter of looking down on them, but an attempt to help them rise out of the mud. Thank you for your noble efforts in this area.
And thank you, for your encouraging and kind words.

Best Regards,

Heinz-Ulrich von B.
Anonymous said…

For every one of those hateful emails there are scores of devoted followers who enjoy The Average Guys Guide to Style. Don't be discouraged my comrade. Keep up the good works.

Anonymous said…
My comment is unrelated to the above post. I enjoyed checking out all of your suggested links in the sidebar, and I found that I was completely ignorant of the music of Henry Mancini. Is there a particular album your would recommend? I enjoyed the first song on the playlist to which you linked. Thank you!
Almost anything featuring Mr. Mancini's work makes for pleasant listening. My personal favorite is the Pink Panther soundtrack album if you can find it on CD (or even vinyl).

Best Regards,

Heinz-Ulrich von B.
Anonymous said…
Thank you!
Anonymous said…
Dear Heinz-Ulrich,
Thank you for another splendid post. The dapper friends of my parents who joined them 50+ years ago for evening games of bridge and conversation were the height of sophistication in my young mind’s eye. Today I rarely encounter that level of presentation, self-respect, or decorum, with the exception of some church and charity events. I find the slovenly tech hucksters and fauxgalitarian politicos with their studied tieless suits and rolled up sleeves most offensive. The canard in tech that “everybody is the same” is quickly exposed when a coveted dinner reservation or liver transplant is required by those in charge. I wonder if so many young people are sullen because they lack self-respect and sense of occasion. And it saddens me, because being an adult; fully an adult is a joy. Dressing well and behaving correctly puts one in a better position to serve our fellow man. And selfless service to others is one of life’s affordable pleasures. OK, off my soapbox.
DW, Philadelphia
Anonymous said…
During a recent trip to the States--New York City--to be exact, I was shocked not so much by how badly dressed people were (it gets worse every trip) but how dirty they looked.
Yes. A few years ago, I spent the day in the city courthouse for possible jury duty. I managed to escape it, but the experience was eye-opening to say the least. You would not think basic cleanliness would be a problem for people living in a Western country in 2015. Clearly, that's not the case though.

Best Regards,

Heinz-Ulrich von B.

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