Manners Maketh the Idler

This is a transcript of the most recent SlowCast “Episode 8 – Manners Maketh the Idler”. To hear the podcast please click here, or subscribe in itunes by clicking here.


Continuing what appears to be the never ending series on “How to Be Slow In a Fast Environment” which I am thinking of re-titling “How to be an Idler”?, or just :How to be Slow wherever”,

The series up until now has been looking at some physical tricks that you can do to Slow yourself down, especially the importance of relaxing, breathing properly and correcting your posture.

These three areas are essential and very useful. Where your body goes your mind will follow and visa versa. It reminds me of an old Charlie Brown cartoon:


Charlie Brown is all hunched and bent over and one of his friends (I forget which one) asks him what he is doing and he says that he is in his “depressed stance”, because it is hard to be depressed when you stand up straight and hold your head up high! Experiment with your posture, see what happens when you hunch, when you slouch, when you stand up straight. See how it changes your mood, how it changes what you think about.

Because now we are going to start looking at more psychological or behavioural ways to start slowing down and the first one I have decided to talk at you about is Manner.

Ill manners are something of a pet hate of mine, so I may descend into a minor rant, if I do, I apologies…

To begin with we need to know what manners actually are. We often confuse manners for etiquette, but really they are 2 separate and very different things: manners are inclusive, etiquette is exclusive.

The journalist AA Gill describes the difference perfectly as:

“Etiquette is an arcane list of arbitrary and pointless conventions that are laid down as pratfalls for the aspirational, as an amusement for the unlovable. It’s etiquette that points out to the girl next to you that she’s drinking from the finger bowl; it’s manners that insist you drink from yours to put her at ease…”

The perfect example of manners and politeness to me is a scene near the end of the film Love Actually, where Colin Firths character has flown to Portugal to propose to the woman of his dreams, there is one taxi outside the airport and he and an elderly lady both head for it. Even though he gets there first and is in a rush he STILL offers the taxi to the elderly lady. Manners are something you should do, because they are the right thing to do, even if it inconveniences you…

Our current fast, hare-brained society has little time or space for manners, we are stressed, solipsistic and self centred, all trying to get everything we want or need to get done as quickly as possible, and other people are often just an annoyance.

Just look at road rage for example. Or as another personal note, have you ever been on the tube in London? People jostle and push and don’t mind being pushed around, but you turn round and apologies and they look like they will kill you! They have been forced to engage, to come outside their own little world and they don’t like it!

We confuse manners to being somehow weak or wimpy. How did that happen?? Just because you are polite doesn’t turn you into a doormat or a pushover. Far from it.

You see we use the word “assertive” a lot nowadays. And we often confuse assertiveness with just being rude. You can be polite and still be firm, in fact, it is often easier to get your own way if you are polite, as we will see in a bit….

Making the effort to be polite FORCES you to slow down. It makes you pay attention to who or what is going on around and you become more aware and mindful, more switched on and present in the moment, we see, feel hear, smell and taste the now much more. And that is what Slow is all about; savouring the minutes instead of counting them…

So, how can you be polite? Well we will start with the easy things, the basics and we will work our way up to more advanced manners (it is always good to start small).

Start by smiling. Just smile, smile at everyone, smile when you talk (even if it is on the phone – people can tell you know), smile when you walk, maybe whistle a jolly little tune (if you can whistle, I can’t and it frustrates me!!)

Secondly say “please” or “thank you” (I am sure your parents told you this), ask for something, say “please”, someone does something for you; serves you at a shop, holds a door open, say “thank you”. Loudly! Don’t just mutter it. Smile, make eye contact and say in a cheery voice thank you!

You probably do this already right? Most of the time at least? Well do it all of the time, even if you are in a bad mood (I have found making myself be polite, even when I don’t want to or can’t be bothered, can and will changed my mood instantly).

So, next? Say good morning or good afternoon to everyone. AND MEAN IT! Don’t just mumble it to the receptionist on your way to the office. Ready to make it a bit more interesting? Ask them how they are, listen and respond. Have something more interesting than “fine” (but short, no one likes a bore) to say when asked.

Here’s a trickier one; learn and remember peoples names and USE IT when you talk to them.

Right the next and final step (for now), do things for people, let a car out of a side road when sitting in traffic, offer to carry something for someone. Start with something simple and work up to offering more and more help. The key here is to offer to do it EVEN if it puts you out (remember the Love Actually example?).

Make the effort to be super polite, sickeningly so for the next few days, see what happens to you (how you act and feel and how your life changes) and to the people around you. The reason for being overly polite for a few weeks is because of the idea of contrast. Think about driving down a motorway and seventy and then seeing how slow thirty feels when you get off, or (if you are a gym goer) lifting a heavier weight than you want to lift, then lifting the actually (lighter) weight and feeling just HOW MUCH More lighter it feels. If you are overbearingly polite and well mannered for a couple weeks, a reasonable and sensible level of politeness will feel easy, natural (and fun)…

I have a rule, a game I play with myself when I am out and about. I want to leave everyone I interact with a little bit happier than before I saw them. Flirt with the grumpy waiter or waitress, tell the person in the post office a joke, offer your place in the queue to someone who looks flustered.

I like to think of this as like dropping pebbles in a pond, I imagine the ripples flow out and how this tiny action could change someone’s life in a big way…

Maybe you smile at the lady in the shop and make her feel better about herself, so the goes home in a good mood rather than a bad one for change, so treats her husband differently and than one little spark could save their marriage. Who knows??

Incidentally, on a slightly selfish level (and you may like this), politeness is it’s own reward. By being well mannered, polite and friendly I have got discounts, upgrades on planes and hotels, jumped queues and all other manner of things.

Oh and smiling releases endorphins (or as Richard Bandler, the co-creator of NLP calls them “endolphins” – I like that image, these happy, good feeling producing dolphins swimming round your brain!), even if you do an insincere smile, and those lovely chemicals make you feel happier, more energised and alert.

And, I am pretty sure that being polite will make you more optimistic and optimists often live longer and healthier lives.

And it is good for your Karma…

So, see, manners are there own reward. Do them for your self if no one else!

Of course, the irony is that the first and last rule of manners is that they are not compulsory and if you have manners you would forgive people who don’t… So if someone is rude to you, cuts you up or in any other way offends you, just smile and forgive them. It is not worth the hassle…

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