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Manners are not out of date

I’ve complained before about what I perceive as the coarsening of America (eg, here and here). Manners are becoming a lost art; rudeness and bad language are increasingly accepted as the norm.

Well, it seems at least one person agrees with me. In a fascinating article over at Huffington Post, Dr. Douglas Fields, a neurobiologist, says we have indeed strayed far from the gentility of “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Leave It to Beaver,” the era in which I grew up. But he goes way beyond that, explaining that rudeness is actually neurotoxic, and manners help us cope with the stress of living in large societies. He also emphasizes how important a developing child’s environment is — not just for the first five or ten years, but through the first two decades of life. Verbal abuse causes actual physical changes and “enduring psychiatric risks” in a child’s brain. He cites a study from the American Journal of Psychiatry, saying “exposure to verbal abuse from peers is associated with elevated psychiatric symptoms and corpus callosum abnormalities” and a second study that concluded “parental verbal abuse was more strongly associated with these detrimental effects on brain development than was parental physical abuse.” So much for the old “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

It’s good reading for old fuddy duddies who think their ideas about civility seem hopelessly old-fashioned, and also for parents who need a heads up about the importance of teaching manners and mutual respect in the home.


  1. It’s reassuring to know that there’s scientific evidence to validate my (our) cynicism.

    On an off topic note, it’s also reassuring to see that your gaming addiction doesn’t require 100% of your time.


  2. I find it unsettling when teachers or family members rave about my children’s manners. Because it is shameful to consider that encountering children with manners is so rare anymore.

    The fact that manners no longer seem to matter indicates to me a loss of so many things, like respect for other persons, and appreciation and acknowledgement of others’ efforts. And this leads to all other kinds of problems.

    I’ve never bought into the ‘sticks and stones’ idea. That’s just ridiculous.


    • With all due respect, I think the “sticks and stones idea” is on the whole, beneficial in at least two ways.

      One – It helps instill the kind of self assurance that’s needed to resist escalating a name calling session because it’s a juvenile exercise.

      Two – It helps instill the ability to prioritize the pro’s and con’s of response tactics so that the natural tendency to engage in conflict is not to shoot a name caller.

      Good manners are, in my opinion, not just a list of rote memorized rules of civilized society, but are rules that have origins which describe logical reasons for our collective acceptance of them.


    • Teachers carry on about my grandkids’ manners, too. It makes me wonder if “please” and “thank you” are really that uncommon among today’s children. Scary thought.


  3. Simple consideration requires a more patient attention than is generally allowed by our current stimulus levels. We simply don’t have the time for politeness any more. It’s sad. But obvious. When coworkers commence a plaintive rant, it quickly catches hold and is difficult to extinguish. It’s a very palpable pollution. On the other hand, a small bit of positivism can also strike a nice spark. It’s a choice with which we’re confronted many times each day.


    • I know life today is frenetic, but I’m not sure I buy into the idea that we don’t have time to be polite. A little more hurried, perhaps, but still polite.


Now that I've had my say ...

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