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As Kathy Griffin is fond of telling live audiences: “I was raised right — I talk about people behind their backs. It’s called manners.” To those of us growing up in the late 20th century, hiding one’s reactions and opinions behind politeness seemed like the height of hypocrisy, and flamboyantly liberating oneself of outdated rules of etiquette was the utmost expression of freedom and individuality.
Well, now we can all seen where that’s gotten us. With our President indulging in rhetorical pissing matches with other world leaders (he just publicly disparaged another nuke-bearing world leader as “short and fat”), we begin to see the value in upholding the very basics of mutual consideration and public respectability. As the holidays roll around and thrust us into mixed company, let the following quotes — both extolling and bemoaning the burdens of being upright — be your sword and shield.
Remember: if you don’t can’t say something nice, at least just wait ten minutes and then say it behind someone’s back.
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, 1951
“I am always saying “Glad to’ve met you” to somebody I’m not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.”
Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, 1965
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
Robert A. Heinlein, Friday, 1982
“A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”
Arthur Schopenhauer, The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims, 1995
“It is a wise thing to be polite; consequently, it is a stupid thing to be rude. To make enemies by unnecessary and willful incivility, is just as insane a proceeding as to set your house on fire. For politeness is like a counter–an avowedly false coin, with which it is foolish to be stingy.”
Georgette Heyer, April Lady, 1957
“It was growing late, and though one might stand on the brink of a deep chasm of disaster, one was still obliged to dress for dinner.”
Emily Post, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, 1922
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”
Karen Joy Fowler, The Jane Austen Book Club, 2004
“Arriving late was a way of saying that your own time was more valuable than the time of the person who waited for you.”
Fannie Flagg, Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, 1998
“The line between the public life and the private life has been erased, due to the rapid decline of manners and courtesy. There is a certain crudeness and crassness that has suddenly become accepted behavior, even desirable.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 1999
“Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects.”
Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking, 1945
“You understand Teacher, don’t you, that when you have a mother who’s an angel and a father who is a cannibal king, and when you have sailed on the ocean all your whole life, then you don’t know just how to behave in school with all the apples and ibexes.”
Kahlil Gibran, The Forerunner, 1931
“The real test of good manners is to be able to put up with bad manners pleasantly.”