9/15/07

Morality and Manners

My talent show poll has received a nice boost thanks to Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels. There are some interesting comments here. A recurring point (Carolyn Ann said it early on) is that the dilemma seems to be about manners, not morality, etiquette not ethics. (Wow, two ways to alliterate!)

But doesn't the line between the two actually seem very thin? Above is a manners poster for elementary schools, but are the lessons just about manners?

"Share with others"--that sounds like morality to me. "Take turns"--a matter of basic justice! Think of other things you regard as questions of "mere" manners. "Be punctual"--isn't that an issue of respect?

I suppose there are some things that really are mere questions of manners. "Don't eat with your hands." We have a convention about that. It doesn't really seem morality-based because violating it has no other impact than causing trivial offense.

In the talent show situation, much more is at stake than trivial offense. If parents leave after their children perform, the first performer will have a big audience and the last performer a small audience. There are issues of fairness involved, as well as the possibility of hurt feelings. If leaving or staying is a question of manners, it's not a question of "mere manners."

Maybe we tend to think of moral issues as big, dramatic issues, but that's not always true. I actually think it's wise to think carefully about moral issues in everyday life. They have their own importance, and thinking about them helps prepare for the day when something "big" comes along.

Also, kids learn from what their parents do, so there's that extra reason for parents to take the issue seriously, as Aviva G pointed out (in the comments, a while back).

The poll closes in a few days and then I'll explain why the talent show situation interests me and whether my hypothesis has been confirmed by the results.

results

1 comment:

Ophelia said...

Exactly, about manners. I said that in response to Carolyn Ann yesterday. I think manners are really important, and that that's because they are about morality and ethics. (Why else would they be important? Aesthetic reasons possibly...But aesthetics have nothing to do with the issue here. In fact if aesthetics were the issue, the right answer would be 1!)

I love reading Miss Manners's books, and that's because they're all about morality and ethics.