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He/She is so. . . Civilized?

Unlike the man in this photograph, my expression was deadpan, but inside I cringed.  And then wept inconsolably.


My wife and I had an appointment on Wednesday evening this week with a behavioral specialist (A Ph. D. candidate here at Michigan State University), who will be running a 15-week social group, part of a larger study in which our son will participate, for children on the Autism spectrum.  

Everything went fairly well until she casually dropped some extremely rude terms into  the conversation.  Bear in mind, the three us us sat in an office suite, the couple to whom this specialist spoke were two educated, well-spoken, professionally dressed adults, who she had never met before, and my wife and I were not speaking like this.  Typically we don't anyway.  

Suddenly, I was back in the non-union stockroom three plus decades ago unloading trucks with a manual pallet jack.  I thought I had left that kind of thing behind years ago.  Guess not.  To paraphrase those old 1940s-1950s educational film shorts, produced by Cornonet Films and the like, "Excuse me, but your [lack of] upbringing is showing!"  

Laugh all you want, but there was something to these films, many of which were still shown to me and my contemporaries in preschool and elementary school during the first half of the 1970s.  They certainly underscored the kinds of behaviors and conventions that were taught to me in my own extended family either implicitly, or explicitly.

Returning to last Wednesday evening, and as always in these kinds of unexpected social situations, I was momentarily stunned, nonplussed, and then mentally signed off for the rest of the meeting once I had collected my wits.  I know.  I know.  I shouldn't be surprised by this point.  But huge, red flags like this makes it very hard to listen to what someone says, and continue to participate in an exchange, when he or she fails to recognize that it might be better to leave the bathroom terminology out of the discussion.  Save it for the taproom why don't ya?  Sigh.

There really ought to be a required two-semester sequence of charm courses for college students everywhere with a refresher for those in graduate programs.  How to behave, why, and things you just don't do or say in polite company.  Hey, a guy can dream, right? 

Others have occasionally lamented the sudden and drastic fall in standards of speech and conduct, so I realize that I am not completely alone, but good God.  My late maternal grandfather always insisted, as I have no doubt mentioned here before, "People are pigs."  As a teenage and younger adult, I used to laugh and dismiss his observation, but the longer my journey through adulthood, the more I see how right he was.  

Keep in mind, ol' Granddaddy hailed from rural North Carolina, from a farming family no less,  but Great Grandmother Stokes and her daughters -- Great Aunts Lillian, Marnie, and Martha-- tolerated no nonsense when it came to daily manners, behavior, and etiquette.  It wasn't just the six siblings from that family who behaved politely without fail either.  The same was true, as far as I could tell, throughout the extended family into my mother's and uncle's postwar generation -- the so called Baby Boomers -- as well as my own, those of us born during the 1960s and 70s.   I knew all of the players in the extended cast well and saw them often throughout childhood and into young adulthood when the older WWII generation began to reach the end of their lives.  Collectively, however, we knew how to behave.

So too, did the families of my various friends and classmates during my years as a school pupil in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.  Don't forget, these kids and their parents spanned the socioeconomic spectrum from farmers and the working class on the one hand to more comfortable educated white collar professionals on the other.  I well recall various mothers and fathers reminding my friends to eat nicely at the table, say please and thank you, speak kindly to others, etc. well into our late teenage years.  So, clearly many families besides mine at one time cared about and made a far more concerted effort to instill pleasant habits into their offspring.

All of which brings me to the usual sad conclusion and inquiry posed here at Classic Style before.  What the hell has happened in the last 40-odd years?  That's a rhetorical question you understand  The social progress of the last half-century or so is fine, but the baby has been thrown out with the bath water where even the most basic social graces are concerned.

Based on what is all around us now anytime we are brave enough to venture out the front door, to say nothing of the cesspit that comprises much of the virtual world, you might be forgiven for thinking that many people act like they don't know any better. . .  which means they very probably  do not know any better if we stop deluding ourselves for two seconds.  

Oh, right.  My privilege is showing.  Shame on me!  Please.  Let's all just stone me to death in the village square, thank you very much Shirley Jackson.  That would certainly be easier than what passes for society actually looking more closely at itself, wouldn't it?  I shudder to think about the kind of coarse world our son will have to wade through when he is my age.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

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