Catholic Match Post on a World without Manners

My latest post is up on Catholic Match, discussing the pitfalls and solutions of dating in a world without set manners:

For an example; just the other day I read a woman claiming that it is inappropriate behavior for a man to compliment a woman on her looks if they are not dating. Not long after, on a different site, I read a man recounting how he did just that in a (successful) bid to cheer up an evidently unhappy stranger.

Now, suppose a man who thinks it is an act of kindness compliments a woman who believes that such behavior is inappropriate. We immediately have a conflict in which one thinks she is being mistreated and the other thinks he is being rebuked for an act of kindness.

The immediate point isn’t which one is right; the point is that neither can justly claim the other did anything wrong, as far as this little scenario goes, because they were each following what they believed to be appropriate. Only there is, at present, no objective and exterior standard which both may be expected to know and to which both can appeal.

To make matters worse, the same man may receive a completely different response from a different woman, meaning that even his own experience cannot serve him as a guide.

Thus, the answer often given when this problem is brought up—“Just don’t act inappropriately”—misses the point entirely. The problem isn’t so much that people behave inappropriately, it’s that the word ‘inappropriate’ in this circumstance has no content.

To say ‘act appropriately’ is meaningless unless there is an agreed upon, objective standard for ‘appropriate’ that both parties can be expected to be aware of and to which both sides can appeal. We simply do not have that in modern Western society (we are not discussing here obviously aggressive behavior such as physical grabbing or open solicitation).

Now, the obvious solution is “then we need to establish new standards!” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. No one sits down and says, “our society shall have these manners and these norms for this reason.” These things develop over time, born of ethics, custom, common beliefs, and so on. All that’s mostly been torn up and thrown out of our culture, and restoring it is beyond the scope of any one of us.

No, my point is much less ambitious; it is simply to encourage charity. Being aware that the other person is operating under such uncertainty ought to make us more patient and less quick to judge when he does something we consider inappropriate. This alone would smooth out many if not most of the friction that occurs in such cases.

Read the rest here.

UPDATE: I realized that I put in the wrong link in both cases. It’s been fixed.

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