Discussions of manners come up quite a bit in martial arts. As those of you who follow the blog or go to blackbelt class know, one of the topics that Master Pearson has recently been discussing more regularly is manners. This has gotten me thinking a lot about what manners mean to me. I very much agree with Master Pearson that manners are an essential part of martial arts practice. I have also reflected upon how differently I view manners compared to how many of my friends and people my age view manners. Most of my friends and peers seem to view manners as officious and overly formal gestures that must be enacted so that older people and strangers don’t get mad, but I view manners as a mode of expression through which one can express one’s appreciation for the virtues of others and the virtues of valuable things.
This may sound strange, but most of my friends think that the degree of manners that I demonstrate towards them is inappropriate. Now I don’t bow to them, use formal titles like Mr or Miss, or things like that, but I do talk to them in a way that is considerate of their feelings and face (when I use the term “face” here I mean as in one “saving face” as in one’s self-esteem, dignity, etc).
For example, if I am gathered with a group of friends, and we are wondering how we might spend our time together, I would not say something like, “Well I want to go to karaoke.” While this would be an honest expression of my desire, stated in this direct fashion there is little room easy disagreement; because my desire was expressed so directly, others may feel that if they have a suggestion of their own, or if they would like to express a preference that is contrary to mine, they might feel bad about going against another friend’s expressed desires, and they wouldn’t want to seem as though they are attacking my desires, because that would be rude. So the statement of “I want to do . . . ” would create a situation in which some of my friends may feel a touch awkward or forward in expressing their own desires.
Therefore, I would instead use a statement like “What do you guys think about karaoke?” This statement removes me from the equation so an expression of disliking karaoke could not be tied in one’s mind to personal disagreement with me or my desires, and since the above question directly seeks the opinions of the others, there cannot possibly be any awkwardness or questions of face for the others in expressing their opinions. The latter way of phrasing the question is more polite and demonstrates better manners because it takes into consideration the thoughts and feelings of the others, and that is why I would use that sort of expression.
The counter that would be proposed towards this way of thinking, and the objection that many of my friends and peers raise to the above way of thinking would be: “But Gabe, we are all friends here, and we should have no problem disagreeing with each other, so just express yourself directly.” I agree with the first two parts of that statement: as friends, it is of course okay for us to disagree with each other, and I certainly don’t mind at all if any of my friends disagree with me about how we ought to spend an evening together, and I know that they wouldn’t mind if I disagreed with them about anything. However, this is besides the point.Manners are bout choices. When I am talking to my friends, I have a choice: I can speak to them in a way that honors and appreciates them, or one that does not. I very much want to honor and appreciate them, so why wouldn’t I speak to them in the polite fashion that I prefer. To me, manners are not officious or extraneous at all. Practicing manners is choosing to participate in creating a more positive outward world towards others, which in turn creates a more positive internal world for the self. The more positive world only comes about through sincere heartfelt practicing of the manners – manners that are enacted out of appreciation and not just to look good. When manners are practiced from the motivation of sincerely desiring to honor and appreciate others, everything gets better. This is what manners mean to me.