I was at dinner the other night at the venerable Delhi Gymkhana Club, that for many, follows antiquarian rules. It well may, but some of those rules are what go to making a very pleasant environment. Isn’t that what is required of any public space where people go to have a convivial time?

One of the young ladies with me was answering her phone while sitting with us in the bar, and I had to warn her that she would be fined if she did not stop.

There was absolute disbelief and amazement in her voice when she said ‘really? why?’

Why? why do we think the phone is this instrument that first, needs to be instantly answered, and second, that it should be allowed to interrupt everything else in your life?

I find it quite basic good manners, forget manners, courtesy even; that if you are sitting with people who have made the time to come be with you, you accord them too the courtesy of being with them – and not on your phone.

That you are in a place of leisure, where all the people around you too have come to meet and be with their friends and family in a convivial environment where someone loudly talking into their phone is disturbing and not necessarily what they came to hear.

Have you noticed that if you are having a conversation amongst people whether on a train, a bus or in a restaurant, it is likely to be much quieter than if you are having that same conversation on a phone in those public domains?

I once found myself on a bus travelling through the English countryside, and one young person spent the whole journey having a quarrel with her boyfriend on the phone. The whole bus knew exactly what was up with her life; love life,sex life, friends’ lives and a whole host of details that were nobody’s business but her own, and many of us really did not want to know. What we did want, was a quiet drive to enjoy the scenery or read a book, or even have a conversation of our own and were hugely disturbed by this unthinking behaviour.

Now think, if her boyfriend had been sitting next to her, they would probably have had a whispered argument and not that full scale phone battle. That is not a given, however. Which brings me to loud, public conversations too – why would I not have a loud public disagreement?

I would if it were a matter of public opinion or debate.

I would not if it was just my business, because I would not want it to be public. I would not want a public disturbance, I do not like people encroaching on my business and therefore I have no right to push myself onto them. If I do not want their opinion then I have to make sure I do not give them the opportunity to give it.

So it comes to the question of consideration. Considering another’s comfort or discomfort. Why would we do that? Many’s the time we were told by a parent, a teacher or an elder – ‘it’s good manners.’

But why did it become ‘good manners’ in the first place.

I think it goes back to an intrinsic fact of community. Almost all creatures that inhabit this earth live in communities. For those communities to function there have to be patterns of acceptable behaviour, else it becomes difficult to work within a society.

Ultimately it boils down to individual rights, doesn’t it? Why does one person have the right to disturb another?

Either I give you the right or you take the right by force.

If I give the right, we stay amicable and friendly, if you take it by force, I fight you and hate you.

What is pleasanter for both you and me – the peace or the war?

So where does answering that phone fit in? It’s my right to answer my phone wherever I like.

But if I am sitting next to you it is my right to tell you that your loud conversation is disturbing me.

It gives me a headache, it disturbs my concentration while I read or write or do sudoku. It is not your right to disturb me. Stalemate and fight.

But if a public place bans mobile phones, then there is no chance of the strife occurring. Is that wrong? They have the right, it is their space and you needn’t be there if you don’t like the rules. That’s your right.

But I am wandering from consideration to rights.

Why do people still gravitate to people with etiquette and good manners if it is old fashioned?

I do not think it is just an old fashioned concept, Manners or Etiquette came about to create a set of acceptable behaviours so people could co habit and co exist. That necessity still exists, much as we feel that we the individual should be allowed to do what we please. Sure we may, but really, not so much if you want to be a social person and live amongst other people – even if you want to go live all alone in the jungle, there would be the rules of the jungle that would apply.

It is like the contract that we make when I take children on a trip – the first thing is contracting our behaviour – what would we like to include on this trip and what would we like to exclude, in terms of behaviour. By and large all the children include, being polite, considerate, caring, sharing, listening, helping etc etc. Exclude, being rude, selfish, bullying, noisy, unco-operative etc etc.

As far as my concept of etiquette and good manners goes, this is all that it means. To be pleasant and positive.

Why? It makes you feel good, lessens the strife in your own life and it generates the same in the people you meet so it makes you feel doubly good. There’s something very right about that.

That is what my understanding of etiquette and good manners is.

The discussion continues into all aspects of life – as every good book of etiquette did present. The fact that I haven’t found one of those in a long time does not really mean that we have to give up on the graces.

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