Uncommon Courtesy: The Basics of Good Behavior for a Badly Behaved World
Nowadays it’s hard to escape it: politicians slinging mud throughout campaigns; drivers cutting off other vehicles during the morning commute; loud cell phone conversations in restaurants; coworkers stepping on colleagues as they climb the corporate ladder; bloody brawls occurring on the football field, hockey rink, or basketball court; and children bullying classmates both on and off school property.
Fed up with rude gestures and boorish behavior, Ms. Wood has assembled a how-to book, which claims that “Manners are a way of life—a religion of sorts—that need to be ingrained and come naturally in order to be genuine.”
In her introduction, Ms. Wood offers 15 ground rules to better manners, which, because they are cliché, should be easy to remember. She begins her actual discourse with situations at home, where she asserts that all good manners should start. Ms. Wood includes her thoughts on the interior and exterior responsibilities of owning a home and neighborly behavior and inserts a few paragraphs about personal hygiene. A chapter on workplace decorum addresses dress codes, on-the-clock personal computer use, kitchen etiquette and dating fellow employees.
Subsequent chapters speak to circumstances on the road, on vacation, eating out, entertainment, and in conversation. Ms. Wood also includes advice for the lovestruck: newlyweds and long-time spouses, and even parents.
Much of the advice within the book is simple common sense and well intentioned, but some suggestions may provoke skepticism. For instance, Ms. Wood proposes that those who work from home and are disturbed by a neighbor’s constantly barking dog, might want to offer to walk the pet on a daily basis. When it comes to entertaining, Ms. Wood suggests the host “try to schedule 60 minutes to yourself before your guests arrive.” Some readers might doubt the possibility of either proposal becoming reality.
Ms. Wood’s credibility comes into question in the chapter on parenting. She offers debatable advice on raising children. Blanket statements, such as “. . . the way you behave as a mom or dad dictates who your child will grow up to be” could certainly be argued by responsible parents with toddlers entering the “terrible twos or threes.”
Some of the references within Uncommon Courtesy might be more convincing and appropriate if more current. How many people under the age of 50 remember Howard Cosell, refer to cohabitating couples as “living in sin” or cite pregnancy as having “a bun in the oven”?
Ms. Wood includes one appendix on tipping and another that offers sentiments for various occasions. The former proposes gratuity amounts for waitstaff, massage therapists, hair stylists, childcare providers, newspaper carriers, and other service industry personnel. The latter makes a limited number of suggestions for sympathy, congratulatory, get well, and thank-you situations.
Ms. Wood suggests that the proliferation of handheld electronics is responsible for the decline in polite behavior and that this book will help readers “lead a revolution to prove that chivalry is not dead.” While revolution comes across a bit strong, practicing common courtesy in everyday situations could lead to a more civilized world. And while something as simple as saying “Please” or “Thank you” may not lead to world peace, it’s a baby step in the right direction.