Manners, please!

For the most part I would say I can tolerate alleged social indiscretions especially those deriving from or directed to what I consider either superfluous or pretentious conduct. For example, referring to a new adult acquaintance by first name; or, sitting down before the guests are seated at table; or, sampling a plate of community hors d’oeuvres before inviting others to do so. That sort of thing, basically nothing that is damaging if at all except as exotically recognized by some quaint book of etiquette. At most the penalty for such misbehaviour is the collective remorse of others, perhaps an ingredient of sorrowful pouting; or at worse an unexpressed regret for lack of breeding.

People who ridicule etiquette as a mass of trivial and arbitrary conventions, “extremely troublesome to those who practise them and insupportable to everybody else,” seem to forget the long, slow progress of social intercourse in the upward climb of man from the primeval state.

Etiquette in Society (1922) by Emily Post

But honking a car horn at someone is another story. There are no abbreviating or accomodating excuses. Personally I do not make a habit of honking a car horn at anyone for any reason.  I consider it the height of indelicacy.

Conduct on the highway is presumably an arena onto its own; that is, there are seemingly those who see their passage on the highway as taking place in a vacuum,  one in and from which they have sole command and liberty, one from which they imagine all others are distinct and apart. The rule of the road for those who tend to be indiscrete is simply, “Get out of my way!” This is a theme invoked routinely when the applicant (let us call him or her the “Road Ragor”) ends after assault of the horn and pressing on the gas pedal landing in the identical position on the road as any of the others he or she attempted moments previously in a fit of psychotic anger to dispel from view. In short, a great deal of commotion for no reason whatever.

When one has the indisputable pleasure to laugh in the face of such blundering trespass, it is however by far more difficult to resist the urge to do so. The dichotomy is that the accusation becomes the polarization. In short, the return volley is no more imperative than the initial thrust; and there is a very real appearance that one actor in the mix is no better than the other.

What’s interesting about hearing the honking of a car horn at oneself is that on occasion it marks the respect of a manifest “Hello!”, a mechanical term of familiarity and moderate endearment. Even if the horn were delivered from behind as a warning, seldom in such circumstance is it misinterpreted as an affront. But a honk from behind while driving your car is something else. There is little chance of misconception. The meaning is patent.

The misdirection is however as demonstrably evident. From a purely practical equation, it is at least arguable as an opening proposition that, if the car in front of you has slowed, there is probably a reason it has done so.  Even if the reason were no more compelling than an old fogey is driving, it isn’t in my opinion sufficient entitlement to honk one’s horn. I realize that I am now conveniently within that apologetic demographic of old age and mounting slowness; but I don’t recall as a youth taking the liberty to honk my horn in similar situations. Car honking is not a pervasive impediment. And I have yet to uncover any possible entitlement.

It is of course an eternal regret of mine that I haven’t the willingness or the engineering to rebuff what is so often the social inadequacy of others. My restraint has nothing whatever to do with the social control which I accuse the offenders to be lacking. I can assure you that nothing incites me more than the impatience of a honking horn. I would as happily follow them to their destination for the sole purpose of outlining their indiscretion in uncomplicated terminology. This, I suppose, is what is behind the retail of similarly preposterous ring fights where two men beat one another over the head until unconscious. And it may be the only elevation behind bull fighting which uses the advantage of stage performance to dignify bloodymindedness.

What prevents me from descending to this platform of combattive behaviour is the predominance of propriety.

Many who scoff at a book of etiquette would be shocked to hear the least expression of levity touching the Ten Commandments. But the Commandments do not always prevent such virtuous scoffers from dealings with their neighbor of which no gentleman could be capable and retain his claim to the title. Though it may require ingenuity to reconcile their actions with the Decalogue—the ingenuity is always forthcoming. There is no intention in this remark to intimate that there is any higher rule of life than the Ten Commandments; only it is illuminating as showing the relationship between manners and morals, which is too often overlooked. The polished gentleman of sentimental fiction has so long served as the type of smooth and conscienceless depravity that urbanity of demeanor inspires distrust in ruder minds. On the other hand, the blunt, unpolished hero of melodrama and romantic fiction has lifted brusqueness and pushfulness to a pedestal not wholly merited. Consequently, the kinship between conduct that keeps us within the law and conduct that makes civilized life worthy to be called such, deserves to be noted with emphasis. The Chinese sage, Confucius, could not tolerate the suggestion that virtue is in itself enough without politeness, for he viewed them as inseparable and “saw courtesies as coming from the heart,” maintaining that “when they are practised with all the heart, a moral elevation ensues.”

No doubt if I were to be completely candid I would acknowledge the superiority of polish to push; but hidden beneath our rude ornaments of society are the inescapable roots to malignancy. To overcome this elemental recipe of humanity is no minor undertaking. The argumentive and domineering seams run deep within us. And rather than pretend to have overcome this particular inertia, I will say instead that by the application of limitation for a brief moment I have unwittingly succeeded to avoid the vulgar allure of a street fight. My reward for such effort is not the satisfaction of “in your face”; but I have at least managed to surmount what I know will have been the inevitable conclusion “listen to your instinct”. More and more I find I am succumbing to the utility and authenticity of my own mandates.