How etiquette saved the world

Justice Simango
“Etiquette is the science of living, it enhances everything. It is ethics, it is honour.” Whenever I talk to people about etiquette, they quickly turn their backs on me, thinking I will advise them on how to use a fork and knife or rather, how to shake hands.

While these are equally significant aspects of the subject to know and apply, it does not cascade down to the core of what etiquette is really about. Harvard University Professor Steven Pinker provided some surprising observations about social progress. He says life is much better today, more peaceful and more prosperous. The chance of dying by homicide has declined by hundred fold, says Professor Pinker. The reality is that, it was each man, woman and child for him or herself.

However, the development of etiquette, Pinker and other experts argue, had something to do with a widespread increase in peace and integrity.

During the 18th century, when the European kings consolidated their power, their knights had to cultivate manners so as not to offend their kings. The manners of the court came to be called ‘courtly’ manners or what we refer to as ‘courtesy’ today. Etiquette guides were developed to govern how people should behave in the king’s court. The bulk of the philosophy was inverted by sociologist, Norbert Elias who believes the guides transformed the violent, selfish, cruel inconsiderate and disrespectful mind sets and actions that the people had at that time. This gave birth to a society that had a culture of dignity, respect and tolerance.

The rules included common manners such as: don’t urinate in the hallway, don’t use the table cloth to blow your nose, mind your language and the list goes on. The penalty for these infractions was assumed to be internal, a sense of shame. A renowned author and historian, Henry Hitchings notes that King David 1 of Scotland proposed that citizens who learned to eat properly should get a tax rebate. Sadly, the idea never caught on.

What disappoints a lot of folks who grew up in families that instilled etiquette and good manners in their children is that these important skills are not being passed down to the next generation. So many children have never been taught that they should be aware of others and they should respect their elders. This state of affairs is very sad.

Manners are described as good and/or bad to indicate whether or not behaviour is acceptable. Every community adheres to a different set of manners, although a lot of manners are common in most cross cultures. This is why today we celebrate the social liberation of the world which was also a result of the evolution of etiquette.

I developed the love for etiquette early in life when I used to help my sisters set the table for dinner every night. My family initiated me; they groomed me and taught me the science of living.

Etiquette is not only just about fork and knife, etiquette is a culture, behaviour, lifestyle, a dogma, a skill that everyone should learn and apply. My passion and love stretched after my self-driven research on the subject.

The history of etiquette polished my professional look as I began to appreciate more of what good manners have to offer if well implemented. I had to interpret, synthesise and translate the cultural norms and behavioural trends to suit the business and social circles of our time.

Findings were amazing; they contained world class executive secrets and expert’s methodology on interesting topics such as, interview etiquette, curriculum vitae (CV) etiquette, office/workplace etiquette, email etiquette, dinning and dressing etiquette, church and funeral etiquette, wedding and sports etiquette, the list is endless.

But, in the same vein, event watchers have also noted that etiquette has taken control of all social behaviours with top notch companies referring to these manners as soft skills necessary for every professional.

My international etiquette mentor, Nancy Mitchell calls for the establishment of etiquette curriculums to be introduced at early childhood development levels and during the orientation and induction sessions at our workplaces.

I strongly feel that when etiquette liberated the world, Africa was one of the continents that were saved and hence we show some level of civility in our homes, schools, churches, companies, corporate events and gatherings.

Despite the loud outcries and complaints on unemployment levels that continue to balloon in the country, my research has convinced me that most people today are jobless not because they lack qualifications or there are no jobs at all, but instead, these people lack people and etiquette skills. Business soft skills have a direct impact on the individual performance and the image of the organisation. Academic excellence is incomplete without excellent manners and behaviour.

In a nut shell, the executive protocol and etiquette advise that I share with people seeks to groom a business friendly Zimbabwe, where people respect modern manners, tolerate different business skills and uphold values and principles of etiquette. I want to be part of the pioneers that will establish a participatory education system that facilitates etiquette based programmes.


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