Yesterday while browsing in a used book store, my husband came home with Lynne Truss's Talk to the Hand, her book about increasing rudeness in society. Its publication date is 2005, but it isn't out of date. Indeed, the problem she addresses has intensified since she wrote it.
When did society stop valuing basic courtesy and respect? Talk to the Hand (NY, Penguin, 2005)is not a guide to manners; rather, it is an attempt to define and analyse six areas in which we seem to be getting "more unpleasant and inhuman" in our dealings with each other. One of Truss's culprits is modern communications technology. "These systems force us to navigate ourselves into channels that are plainly for someone else's convenience, not ours...In our encounters with businesses and shops we now half expect to be treated not as customers, but as systems trainees who haven't quite got the hang of it yet."
She also blames parents who are so determined to build their children's self-esteem that they protect them from blame or accountability of any sort. In two hilarious paragraphs she depicts such parents setting their kids loose in a relative's home.
"Say Hi to Bob, kids. Yes, darling, this is the man we call Fatty Bob. How clever you are to remember. Now, why don't you all run off and see how many things beginning with the letter H you can collect for mommy? All right, Freddie, you can use a screwdriver. Take your sticky drinks with you." Later, when the homeowner gets cross, the parent comforts the child, saying: "Fatty Bob is...materialistic, which means he prefers things to people. We prefer people to things, don't we? Fatty Bob shouldn't leave such irreplaceable heirlooms just lying about, should he? Silly Fatty Bob."
Despite the many instances of deteriorating behaviour that Truss describes, she hopes that if enough people demonstrate kindness and good manners they may change society. I hope so too, but I'm not holding my breath in anticipation.