Editorial: Manners Matter

Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts recently wrote a column lamenting the decline in civility in our country. “In the olden days, we thought manners mattered. Apparently we no longer do. And while that observation can’t be quantified, it is one many of us share. A number of surveys, including one from Rasmussen Reports in 2009, find that an overwhelming majority of us (75%, according to Rasmussen) think Americans are becoming ruder.”

No kidding! Does that surprise anyone? My theory is that rudeness is so common any more that we don’t even notice it unless it is egregious. The converse is that when we do run into someone with manners and a good attitude we are usually surprised.

QP columnist John Giles says that during a recent week-long road trip, he witnessed a belligerent man being removed from a flight, a ranting woman being escorted off her plane, and a screaming “executive vice president” being hauled off from the airport gate by the state police. Those are pretty egregious examples of rudeness by people who threw temper tantrums because they didn’t get their own way.

Less spectacular are the times when you are ignored at the counter, intruded upon by someone blabbing on a cell phone, cut off in traffic, cut in front of while standing in line at the bank, or distracted from the movie by people chattering or texting on their glowing screens. I can’t count the number of times I have tried to pull into a parking spot only to have to get out and move the shopping cart some jerk left sitting in the space.

As QP columnist Debra Thompson emphasizes in her columns and in her consulting work, attitude is of vital importance when hiring people. Hire attitude and teach skills is the mantra. The problem comes when you can’t find someone with a decent attitude. Of course, sometimes you get lucky, but—judging from the printers I talk with—attitude can still be a real problem. I haven’t taken a poll, but I’ll bet the vast majority of shop owners have had to deal with an employee with a lousy attitude, either toward fellow workers or toward customers.

That said, there do exist pockets of great civility and service to be found. We occasionally patronize a certain restaurant chain that has decent, if slightly unhealthy, offerings. The local outlets are okay, service-wise. Not great, but not particularly surly or rude. Thus it came as a pleasant surprise last weekend when we dined (actually we just ate) at a location in another city—same menu, same layout, but an entirely different atmosphere. Everyone was polite, efficient, pleasant, and friendly. It was obvious that they had hired attitude at that location.

So, if you please, I will end on that note.

Thank you.