July 2, 2017

Manners - how far have we come?

The other day i came across a little booklet that was written about 80 years ago and i was amazed at this thoughtful little compilation of a powerful piece of advice. Forty short paragraphs depicting the essence of humane behaviour that would surely be the foundation of a good and kind society. The book was titled “Dhuroosul-Akhlaaq” meaning “Lessons on Manners” . Eighty years down the road how mannerful are we in our society? Or has this book been buried with the grime of a dead past? To now be resurrected and put on store shelf by some that lament a bygone past. It's a miracle this is still available in some book stores reproduced by some thoughtful local printers. Kudos to them. This book illuminates the effort of our early local educators and spiritual leaders to inculcate the timeless aspects of human mortality in our society. The result of their effort - and / or the lack of it - is for us all to see in the ways of our present society. How far have we come?

Why manners? Any behaviour labelled as manners are those beautiful behaviours that help society to feel comfortable as we go about in our daily lives interacting with each other. The way we talk and act, constitute the bulk of manners which is the physical manifestation of our inner thoughts and feelings about ourselves and others. Manners may come of nurtured habit of our upbringing and our social experience, but it's logical to realise that ultimately manners are sustained by moral thinking, This attitude of being kind and humble translate into mannerful behaviour. Manners are necessary for us to live harmoniously in a society that attempts to offer human dignity to everyone. Yes,  dignity is something everyone yearns to have but depending on the level of manners manifest in society it is fulfilled or we fall short. When there is this shortage, society suffers for its lack. People fight and vie for space and become spitefully competitive. In such a social ambience, cooperative and thoughtfulness become the least of concerns. We become selfish and resentful beings only being guided by the paradigm of "what's in this for me?". In contrast, manners make a person's character attractive - how others see us - and there lies the power of human social transformation.

Some simple examples from our age old  “grandmother’s repertoire” of good manners: When we talk to others, is our tone and cadence pleasant and our attitude approachable?. When we are at the dinner table do we respect our space and serve with consideration to the others and attempt to pass the food rather than reach out to fill our places before anyone else, or give due attention to even the simple act of letting a spoon not drip food on the tablecloth for the respect we like to give to the host. These are mannerful acts of reciprocity; those that delight others and also gain the merit of respect for ourselves. On the street, are we considerate of how we give way to each other or have consideration for those older than us or do we just walk along as if we own the pavement (if there was one); or in traffic, do we care about the safety of fellow drivers and engage in safe and defensive driving? When engaged in a conversation do we listen intently to what the other person is saying or just behave like “Tennyson's Brook”? Do we say “thank you” when a favour is done to us, or voice a sincere “sorry” when we happen to accidentally inconvenience anyone? At the crowded bank, would we give the seat to an older person or someone with disabilities? Could this be also so while we are stuck in the many lines (queues) we form up at grocery stores, banks, payment counters in hospitals and the like? Or for that matter in situations where there is no arrangement for such a line, do we attempt to form a line or just prefer aggregating at the counter like bees around the honey pot?  Do we greet people on the street and attempt to spread good will with a smile or a nice gesture of acknowledgement? Do we give way to pedestrians at a street junction or do we just race our powerful machines dangerously past the hapless pedestrian in our seemingly endless hurry to go wherever that we may be going without any consideration for the road risk we may be creating. Do we care at all?

When we don't practice these finities we lose ground in our humaneness. We are surely not wild animals but this must be hallmarked by the behaviour that makes us separate from those at the zoo. Those qualities that define our difference is nothing but manners. It's manners that take us out of the realm of “the survival of the fittest” that is the animal kingdom. Our’s is the realm of the human kingdom. There must be a difference. Otherwise we are nothing better than animals in human form. We thus live a wrong label.

Allah SWA created us different for us to behave differently and this difference is what separates us from the other creatures He created. In fact this aspect of manners is what differentiates us even amongst ourselves in the human society. As we all know. Allah SWA looks not at anything else about us in his judgement of our goodness but our deeds. Absolutely nothing else. Not our lineage, our wealth, our educational qualifications or the colour of our skin or our physical skills. Good deeds are all He looks for. And good deeds are mannerful acts.