“Insofar as he’d formed any opinion of her, it was that she suffered from misplaced gentility and the mistaken belief that etiquette meant good breeding. She mistook mannerisms for manners.”
from The Truth, by Terry Pratchett
This topic has been on my mind a lot lately. I seem to know a lot of people who mistake manners for morals. (Ethics, for me, but alliteration is irresistible.)
It sounds absurd at first; as if anyone would be considered immoral for using the wrong fork! But consider how many people have done really unethical things without batting an eye, yet think of themselves as Good People because they always say please and thank you and cover their mouths when they yawn.
Consider too the folks who have low tastes and behave in a vulgar fashion, but stop to help people with flat tires and otherwise go out of their way to make the world a better place.
I’m not running down manners — courtesy and consideration produce real and positive effects, both in terms of needed assistance and of morale, and provide social lubrication, which keeps us all rolling along without too much grinding of gears.
But never make the mistake of thinking good manners imply good heart, or that coarse manners denote lack of character. The devil himself wears a three piece suit and smiles a lot.