A Case for Modern Manners

September 20, 2016


In decades prior to cellular devices and social media, communication via face-to-face meetings, phone conversations or handwritten correspondence was required. In those days, it seemed there was a certain understood and therefore applied etiquette to communicating with another individual, especially a respected colleague, professional, family member or friend. In fact, back then, manners were utilized in multiple aspects of coexisting and connecting with others. 


Of course, that is not to say there were no unethical behaviors or unacceptable atrocities. The Civil Rights and Women's Movements alone attest to that. 


However, the everyday way people were generally taught to interact was certainly a bit more involved than the disconnected and disinterested way in which people treat others today. And, to be frank, the latter is a very frustrating reality. Unfortunately, it is not merely observed in today's so-called youngsters. Those who are old enough to know better are seemingly following suit.


If you've read this far and wish to continue reading, you're likely over thirty. Anyone under that age maintaining an interest and sharing concern is an impressive someone indeed. Regardless of your age and to prove my last paragraph's final point, if you're still racking your brain trying to recall a time when someone in the 30+ age group exhibited a lack of manners in communication with you, think specifically about text messages.


Personally, I have certainly experienced inconsiderate, thoughtless and somewhat rude responses via text message from those who otherwise seemingly value and display manners. However, it seems those fly out the window when a text message unexpectedly arrives and, rather than waiting to respond at a more convenient time, as one might do when receiving a handwritten letter, a safe blanket of emojis are employed. Moreover, it seems everyone is simply assuming it's acceptable to reply to a caring, kind, thoughtful or considerate and therefore fully-written text message with a thumbs-up and a smile, or the emoji-tional equivalent. 


Newsflash, people: It's not.


Now, before I delve too deeply, let me first say I do realize not everyone is an avid texter. In fact, some find it time-consuming and difficult. Conversely, there are those, myself included, who are turbo-texters and can easily whip out a text, publish-worthy in length, in a matter of seconds. Individuals in the latter group may sometimes take offense to text messages received by those in the former, simply because short, non-expressive and sometimes cave-man-like responses via text can inadvertently send the wrong message.


But, for the record, that is not the situation to which I am referring. In fact, I have a best friend who prefers phone calls to text messages and rarely responds to any text I send with much more than a few words and a handful of emojis. And, admittedly, though it did take some time and a bit of inquiry for me to realize that texting or even receiving a conversational text message mentally maxed her out, I simply learned to do that friendship the old-fashion way; phone calls. Lots of phone calls.


But, with phone calls in mind, I'm also keenly aware of the fact that some people don't like to communicate much at all. In fact, even a phone conversation falls flat. With these individuals, the only potentially stimulating conversation or interaction of any kind will be had face-to-face.


Regardless of these facts, none of the above individuals, generally speaking, would necessarily reject a friendly hello from a passerby or refuse to return a non-creepy, innocent smile from a stranger or a wave and possibly a short chat from a friend on the street. That's just the mannerly thing to do. Right?




So, then, why is it that those who would not simply offer a thumbs up and a smile in response to a heartfelt, person-to-person attempt at communication feel it is acceptable to do so via text? More importantly, why would an individual who is typically known for expressing themselves profusely through written communication via text and social media find it anything less than insulting and condescending, possibly even passive-aggressive, to respond to a lengthy and loving text with a few emojis? 


In my opinion, the latter is grade-school manners, at best. And, by grade-school, I mean offering a small sticker collection in lieu of actual words of self-expression.


So, what's my suggestion?


Well, if you are someone who normally has no issues with communication or texting and has been known to send a novel-size text yourself, yet you are guilty of the aforementioned breech of etiquette, you have no excuses. You need to check your manners and apply them as if it were pre-1985. Technology does not excuse apathy, inconsideration or rudeness, intended or otherwise.


Moreover and on that note, check your motives. If you are trying a passive form of brush-off, it's not working. More importantly, it's not mature. Find an honest, direct and assertive way to maturely state your needs, boundaries and feelings. 


Remember, technology is best utilized to promote progress in the world and in life. To use it as a method of avoidance, escapism, distraction or any other form of self-sabotage is destructive to relationships and your personal character, integrity, overall success and well-being.


Otherwise, here are a few tips for the anti-texter or shy communicator:


If you are not an avid texter;


Let people know. Don't expect friends and potential significant others to read your mind and not personalize your one-word or dreaded one-letter response to their multi-sentence text. Think back on days of the handwritten correspondence. If you had received a four-page love letter and responded with the handwritten letter K, you would not have been much of a Romeo or a Juliet. The same still applies.


Wait until you have time to respond.  It's easy to want to respond to a text immediately, so it doesn't remain on the mental list of things to do. But, if you make the mistake of responding to a text at an inconvenient time, you will likely be less thoughtful and considerate with your response. Remember, if someone has taken the time to send more than a few sentences your way, they likely have an issue of some importance or urgency to discuss or share with you.


Responding in a rush when you are already slow with this particular mode of communication will likely send the wrong message to the receiver and potentially cause a messy misunderstanding. And, for those who think it best, it is not necessarily a good idea to simply employ the voice-text device on your phone at this time either. The frustration you'll likely feel when having to correct any auto-corrections, misheard words, punctuation or misspellings can easily be projected on the receiver. 


If you have read receipts and don't wish to seem as though you are ignoring--also not a good idea--simply let the sender know you will get back to them, and set a specific time for that text to be addressed. Or--and this is likely best--ask when you could call to discuss the matter, if appropriate.


Respond to a text with a request to chat via phone or face-to-face, depending on which is more appropriate. As I stated, if it is appropriate to do so, requesting a phone conversation or face-to-face chat is always best when texting is not your forte. In fact, for emotional conversations--i.e., breakups, conflict resolution between friends, etc.--texting is never a good idea. The possibility of misunderstanding, projection and distortion is far too great. 


Talking things out means literally talking, not texting.


Do not simply respond with emojis, incomplete sentences or modern-day shorthand. Unless a conversation has wrapped up and a lone emoji is appropriate, the use of a technologically-advanced sticker book in lieu of actual words is not acceptable. Moreover, it's bad manners. And, even more importantly, it's destroying our youth's ability to connect, communicate and properly utilize their Native tongue in personal situations. 


Remember, the above suggestions don't merely prevent a misunderstanding between friends. These tips also help you learn to set important personal boundaries, state your needs and keep you from appearing rude, inconsiderate or somewhat less than intelligent.


But, of course, there is a flipside to this coin.


It is equally lacking in manners and etiquette to bombard someone with an onslaught of text messages throughout any given day, unless that particular brand of communication is encouraged and reciprocated. This particular social-etiquette crime is one I have personally committed on numerous conflict-oriented occasions when my emotions and ego buddy up and take over my otherwise rational, centered soul. 


Analogically speaking, the aforementioned behavior is no different than sending twenty scathing, handwritten letters to your jerk-of-a-boyfriend in a single day circa 1985. It wouldn't have been rational then. It still isn't today, regardless of the advancement in format.


When emotions are heightened and communication is needed, it is truly best to only text to request a time to speak in person or over the phone to resolve any conflicts or discuss important issues. Additionally, it's good to take some time to reflect and cool down before firing off text messages like a round of ammo. In fact, resisting the urge to do so may prevent unnecessary added conflict and drama. The latter statement is something I, again, know from personal experience. And, like most everything else, it is knowledge I gained the hardest way. 


With regard to just general communication--i.e., exciting news, storytelling, recaps of events, updates on important issues, catching up, etc.--long and possibly multiple texts will generally be employed. There's certainly nothing wrong with sending these along. But, in consideration of the receiver, it is always a good idea to add a note at the end letting the individual know an immediate response is not needed. And, if no response is needed, certainly say that too. 


Of course, no one is perfect.


We, generally speaking, have the best intentions. But, when we don't, we need to own that. And, if we do, but we realize we are potentially sending an I don't care about you message to those we do indeed care deeply or even remotely about, we need to look at that too.


Whether we are being inconsiderate of a person's time by monopolizing it via text or being or appearing thoughtless with our one-letter-plus-a-thumbs-up text response, there is certainly a need for everyone to employ the same manners society once did prior to cellular devices and texting capabilities. 






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