Once upon a time, a very long time ago, people tried hard to communicate, but could only shout at one another and wildly wave their arms. Over time they developed language to communicate and eventually those who lived together developed certain common traits. In most cases whatever word they used to refer to themselves translated into “We the people.” They made decisions so that everyone would know what to expect. These might be that everyone ate with their hands, or chopsticks, or whatever. Are we going to belch in appreciation after we eat?
They decided how men and women would interact. Do we admit that women are the bosses, or do we pretend that men are? No one group’s set of rules was better than another’s – it just was a way to make it easy to know what to expect.
Over time, these conventions were not only used to include the people who created them, but could be used to exclude others. It was obvious that the stranger was a savage because he did not follow our ways. This was the first of several unfortunate consequences.
Eventually, the use of manners changed from being a tool to put everyone at ease to a tool to not only exclude outsiders, but to separate the elite from the riff-raff. The elite not only ate with knives, forks and spoons, but had a secret code as to exactly which fork to use when, and frowned mightily at the riff-raff who didn’t know a salad fork from a dessert fork. (Harumph!)
But the Age of Aquarius arrived, and with the moon in the seventh house, and Mercury aligned with Mars (and peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars… Sorry) we discarded many of the conventions because they had outlived their usefulness (let’s face it, who knows how to use grape shears at formal dinner – in fact have you ever even seen grape shears?) and a great egalitarian movement was carried forward.
Without the artificiality of meaningless etiquette, people began to coalesce.
Unfortunately, about the same time, cable television entered the scene. Twenty-four hour news channels and opinion programs reigned supreme. Debate was in the air.
So today, once again, the norm is that people shout at one another and wildly wave their arms.