By Asad Bhatty
The Existing Scenario
We are living in an age when frankly no one has either the time or the patience to get into social niceties. However, what we all do not seem to realise is that this ‘practical’ attitude is hurting the most vital communications link in our day to day lives – all our relationships.
This article is an informal but by no means an exhaustive look into the state of our manners and social norms, although I do try and touch upon some fairly common mistakes and misconceptions. Suffice it to say that this is a layman’s perspective of some key aspects of interaction among us.
Human relations is an extremely broad, a highly sensitive and to say the least an extremely controversial area. In terms of the various aspects of our dealings with other people, it is a virtual minefield. We tread on people’s toes when we least expect to be doing so.
I would not like the reader to think of this discussion as being an attempt at teaching all of us how to behave but rather as the voice of our collective conscience. Yes, we can afford to have a conscience – in fact, we must have a conscience – even though we now look upon right and wrong with undisguised contempt.
I strongly believe that essentially all of us are decent people. However, in order to ensure smooth sailing in our dealings with others, our actions and reactions with others should be suitably restrained, be justifiable, be logical and, most importantly, everything we do should be in moderation.
Believe me when I say that it is very easy to get carried away in a given situation. This is an inbuilt pitfall of human nature. Let’s be honest with each other. Regarding manners shown in our day to day dealings with others, the focus seems to have shifted from ‘not causing inconvenience to others’ to ‘not putting up with any inconvenience to ourselves’.
We often say we would stop if the other person told us to. A lot of people are polite and not assertive enough to make their feelings known. We owe it to them as decent human beings not to create unpleasant and awkward situations.
We tend to ignore the looks on people’s faces which are a dead giveaway to their actual sentiments.
How Predictable Are We?
In terms of our habits we humans are usually fairly predictable creatures. Giving a fairly controversial example of this predictability, it is well documented that potential burglars spend time observing the behaviour and daily routines of their targets before they form a plan of action for their actual robbery.
Success rates in burglaries are alarmingly high based on this type of preparation. This is how vulnerable we are to those who really get to know us.
Being Too Nice
We often learn the hard way that people interpret ‘being nice’ as a weakness that will inevitably be exploited rather than a quality that will be admired. But in this we as a society go too far.
Many people exploit others when they have the chance. They essentially prey on their decency. I can safely say that it is a practice and an unwritten rule of thumb in most cultures not to trust anyone and people learn to be blunt and cynical in their dealings; to never lend money or possessions.
We have been so badly desensitized that we never offer any form of assistance to an apparently helpless or needful person as it could be ‘an act put on for our benefit’, even if it is an actual ongoing situation.
Obviously how we behave in any given situation will vary. We would have entirely different reactions to an identical situation depending on whether we are feeling tired, angry, depressed, rejected, anxious, frustrated or any other shade of emotion in between.
Are We Always Right?
No matter how decidedly ‘liberal’ our outlook on social permissiveness is, we must admit that we are decidedly subjective when it comes to ourselves as opposed to others. Though some of us may like to think we are very self sacrificing individuals, in reality we cannot deny that we do always give more weight to our own opinions.
No matter how sharp or ‘experienced’ we may be in social situations, we are always far too hasty in judging others and forming opinions, without knowing enough or in many cases not knowing anything concrete about the person we are judging, the context in which he or she was seen or heard or about his or her circumstances at the time we saw or heard them.
We instantly make our judgment and he or she is condemned to be labeled by us without a chance to defend himself or herself in any way. This is not to say that we are always wrong, but put yourselves for one moment into the shoes of the person being judged. It simplifies matters and makes it ‘convenient’ to assume that things are as they seem, but more often than not, they are not.
Let us look briefly at some ways used by ourselves and others to get things done in various situations.
Continuing on with our discussion, the act of constantly reminding or pestering others to get something done is another trait some among us have internalised. Its necessity in some cases notwithstanding, not only is this extremely annoying but it makes the company of the person doing the pestering highly undesirable.
Unfortunately, this technique is successful in that any of us will do just about anything to get a pestering party off our backs. What the ‘successful’ pesterers do not realize is that they have hurt or even seriously ruined their chances of any amicable relations with those they are bothering.
The Unshakeable Grudge
Holding grudges is an unfortunate tendency amongst us. We do not forgive anyone for the slightest thing. We target that person repeatedly for something he or she may have done but frankly may not even remember. Just because we remember it does not mean they do.
This grudge holding is a defense mechanism that we adopt from an early age. Try as we might, we cannot shake off memories of how someone has insulted, embarrassed or otherwise made us uncomfortable. Though it may seem so at the time, maturity and intelligence should make us consider that this may not always be intentional on their part and we owe people that margin of doubt.
In teasing one another we tend to get carried away. We do not seem to know when to stop or when not to do it at all.
Once again let us place ourselves in the shoes of the person being teased. No doubt we would be okay with a bit of teasing, but when taken beyond a certain limit or done in a certain manner we can cross a line that should not be crossed.
We lose sight of the fact that the one we are teasing is a person just like us. We often get carried away if more than one person is collectively involved.
Measuring With Differing Yardsticks
Not surprisingly, most of us would like to deny this, but we do have different personal standards for those we are close to versus those with whom we are not. We have different attitudes and sets of ‘rules’ for dealing with our buddies, spouses and kids and for dealing with relative strangers or those we wish to avoid.
Similarly, the assertive ones among us get away with a lot more simply by asserting their rights and standing their ground.
Age is a sensitive issue for some and a completely irrelevant one for others. Good manners dictate that one should show deference to those older and kindness to those younger than ourselves.
However, the present generation does not give that much weight to age. Younger people are often in senior positions based on assertiveness, attitude and capability. Older people do not enjoy the prestige and respect they used to enjoy even a few years ago.
‘Going To Town’ On People
Telling others off is a popular outlet used by people to release pent-up emotions. We are often bottling up emotions aroused by an entirely separate situation. However, once we feel someone has crossed certain limits or offended us, we blow our tops.
Depending on how much bottled up emotion we have within us, we overreact and start saying very strongly worded and emotional things to people and we do not stop till we have let them all out. Inevitably the next stage is regret and remorse. But it is often too late to apologise.
Misuse of friendships is another tactical tool used to take advantage of the naïve and trusting people among us. These ‘friendships’ are characterized by one-sided taking rather than giving.
People use friendship to take advantage of our positions, our contacts and our money. They come across as genuine, honest and harmless persons to us until we realise what they are actually doing to us.
By all means be friendly to people. Be informal. Be relaxed. But know your limits and those of others.