For all the flak the world gets, we still live in a pretty exciting time.
Every day there are new, mind-blowing technological innovations, people are living longer than ever, and the global interconnectedness of the internet keeps bringing us closer together.
But regardless of all that, society still tends to romanticize the past. And for good reason.
There are certain aspects of the past that we could use just a little more of in this fast-paced, digital era.
Good old-fashioned social etiquette is a prime example.
While some etiquette rules have been left behind (and rightfully so), others deserve to be re-established as normal again.
Let’s dive in!
1) Respect for elders
We live in a society that sort of coldly regards senior citizens as afterthoughts.
For many people, the elderly are no longer useful segments of the population–so they aren’t always taken seriously or cast away into retirement facilities.
Traditionally, however, there has always been something of a reverence for older people.
While respecting elders is still practiced in certain cultures, this isn’t true everywhere.
Collectively, we need to start respecting past generations; in fact, we need to start respecting people who are different from us altogether, whether that means age, race, culture, class, etc.
I remember watching one of these TikTok pranks where delinquent teenagers were jump-scaring shoppers at the grocery, many of whom were older people.
Now I’m always up for a good laugh, but when your obsession for ‘likes’ or online clout comes at the expense of others, particularly older people who are innocuously trying to get on with their day, then it becomes problematic.
Generally speaking, our elders have paid their dues. They deserve constant kindness, empathy, and humility.
They don’t deserve to be the butt of a distasteful online prank.
2) Leaving thank-you notes
We live in a world of convenience, of instant gratification.
But convenience can compromise meaningful acts.
For instance, when someone goes out of their way to do you a favor, instead of texting or DMing them a ‘thank you’ like everyone else, providing a handwritten note makes the gesture of appreciation exponentially more substantial.
This little act of kindness shows thoughtfulness, graciousness, and class. It shows that you recognize the favor and fully appreciate it.
In-kind, the recipient will feel appreciated and valued.
You’ll be making a distinctly positive impression–much more so than if you had merely fired away a low-effort SMS.
3) Dressing for the occasion
Now I’d classify myself as a laidback, shorts-and-flip-flops kind of guy, but still, I make it a point to dress up when the occasion calls for it.
Dressing appropriately indicates effort–and putting effort into how you look is a sign of respect for both the event and the people attending.
Imagine spotting a friend wearing sweatpants and Birkenstocks at your kid’s graduation dinner or as you walk down the aisle at your wedding–not cool, right?
And as a bonus to looking good, when you wear the appropriate attire you feel good too (and more confident).
4) Refraining from phone use at the dinner table
As mentioned, we live in an age of instant gratification.
Our smartphones have provided us with such an easy, accessible distraction whenever we want it.
Just the other day, I walked past a table of five diners at a restaurant seated al-fresco. All five were on their phones simultaneously.
No interaction, no eating, just cold-hard stares at screens.
Whenever I’m out with a friend or date, and they’re glued to their screens, I get pretty turned off, I won’t lie.
If you’re preoccupied with your device, rather than the person in front of you, developing a fulfilling relationship with you will be challenging–and many people just won’t bother.
While the ascent of technology is invigorating, at the same time, we need to give ourselves boundaries.
Once we start mindfully setting our phones aside when we’re in the company of others, we’re communicating courtesy and attentiveness–two critical elements of a satisfying relationship.
While past generations certainly had their share of flaws, using smartphones at the dinner table certainly wasn’t one of them.
When you are bestowed the privilege of being invited to an event, consider that an honor.
Someone thought of you and is requesting your company. That’s amazing.
When it comes to birthday parties, weddings, quinceañeras, bat mitzvahs or what have you, planning an event generally takes a lot of time and effort.
The purpose of the RSVP is for the organizers to get a head count, so they can organize accordingly.
The least you do when you receive an invite is to respond promptly.
Doing so will exhibit consideration and appreciation for the hosts–whether you plan to accept or decline is inconsequential.
6) Acts of chivalry
One of the downfalls of the internet has been the rise of misinformation, of false ideologies and perspectives.
Online talking heads have found an impressionable, willing audience to mislead with their archaic, misogynistic views.
The unsettling rhetoric has trickled down, influencing men and women everywhere.
The mindset among many is now something along the lines of “Women want equality. They can have it but don’t expect me to be a gentleman anymore.”
There isn’t much nuance there–they’re simply doing a complete 180 in opinion, as one tends to do when they get their facts from the algorithm.
The truth is, the vast majority of feminists simply advocate for equal opportunities, autonomy over their bodies, and an end to gender-based violence–not voluntarily being the victim of rude, toxic masculine behavior.
In short, chivalry has taken a hit over the years.
Chivalry by definition is “polite, kind, and unselfish behavior, especially by men toward women”.
Chivalry means simple acts of courtesy like holding the door open, walking outside the sidewalk, checking if they got home safely, putting on their coat, and so on.
It should have nothing to do with gender politics, to conflate the two is dishonest, from both sides of the spectrum–and the kind of shallow, polarizing, dangerous thinking that has become so prevalent today.
Take it from acclaimed Canadian journalist Lynn Coady: “Let’s not confuse traditional behaviors with good manners. The definition of etiquette is gender neutral, it simply means we strive at all times to ensure a person in our company feels at ease.”
7) Giving up your seat
I was on a crowded, rush-hour subway in New York City the other day going from Flatbush, Brooklyn to Midtown, Manhattan.
Whenever there was a free seat, people would vigorously race to get it.
Understandably, it was the start of the day, and they were tired.
But still, there were elderly, frail-looking people, parents with young kids, and folks carrying large grocery bags, who all remained unseated.
Meanwhile, younger, able-bodied commuters sat comfortably, too immersed in their gadgets to take into account their surroundings.
We may live in a modern era, but progress shouldn’t get in the way of courtesy and kindness.
Offering your seat to someone more in need will always be a polite and compassionate act.
It should never go out of style.
8) Having basic table manners
Nobody is saying you have to dine with the propriety and strict decorum of King Charles.
That said, learning basic table manners will go a long way.
When you’re eating in the presence of others, you want to create a pleasant dining experience for them.
So if aren’t already, it’s worth making the extra effort.
Use cutlery properly, don’t speak with food in your mouth, don’t gorge yourself on chicken nuggets and fries like Jabba the Hut, and eat at a reasonable pace.
Remember, table manners are about respect, not class or money.
According to legendary etiquette writer Emily Post: “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”
9) Having respect for quiet spaces
Over the years, we have transformed into a world of distractions, of constant, excess stimuli.
Quiet or stillness is now often regarded as uncomfortable or boring.
I was on the bus going home today, and a fellow commuter sitting adjacent had Daft Punk blaring from his portable speakers.
He just sat there, as his music was played at an uncomfortable volume, stony-faced and indifferent to everyone else.
The blatant lack of consideration irked me. Headphones have existed since the late 1800s.
And no, this is hardly an isolated incident.
Whether it’s through loud music or rowdy, obnoxious people, venues that are meant to be sanctuaries of silence–such as the library, public transport, or the cinema–are becoming increasingly noisy.
The latter speaks volumes (no pun intended) about the current state of humanity.
To sum up, while past generations were hardly perfect, some of their social etiquette rules should have a place in today’s world.
But don’t worry–you don’t have to suddenly become uptight and overly cautious about how you carry yourself in social settings.
Trust me, polite society bores me as much as anyone.
Having all these non-negotiable rules, like having to remember which fork to use for what course, is in my opinion, tedious and, well, a bit pretentious.
As established, etiquette at its core is about respect, sensitivity, and consideration for others, above all else–qualities that have taken a back seat over time.
So, as long as you have developed these traits, your manners will almost always reflect that.