The hardest job kids face today is learning
good manners without seeing any.
When I first came upon this quote by old
Hollywood heavyweight Fred Astaire, I was
If Astaire felt this way during his time
nearly a century ago, imagine what it must
be like now, with all the badly behaved
celebrities and trash-talking politicians
gambolling about as if they’re the coolest
people to grace planet Earth. Is our
generation beyond salvation?
Case in point: almost everyone I approached
in an informal survey had been bullied on
the road, made fun of, nudged aside or
yelled at in public at least once in the
past month by their countrymen. One person
was even berated by a woman for holding the
door open for her!
Dolly Kee cultivating young minds with good
Australian psychologist Hugh McKay says bad
manners are made even worse by the
proliferation of new technologies such as
the instant messaging and online networking
The set of social rules that prevailed in
the 1950s and 1960s has gone bust, resulting
in the birth of the New Rude — a term coined
by etiquette books to denote
“techno-dilemmas” and a whole host of other
new social snags out there.
“It’s a clash of perceptions between the
generations, because manners is a dynamic
concept. It changes with society and time,”
says Dolly Kee, founder of image consultancy
firm, Image Power.
“Over the years, Malaysians have become one
of the biggest offenders when it comes to
their mobile phones. Is it acceptable to
take a phone call during dinner? What about
texting under the table if you’re in a
meeting? The answer is, of course, no. But
hey, others do it too.
“There are times when I’ve chided my
students for being rude, but they stare
blankly at me. Then it occurs to me that
they haven’t got a clue!” Kee relates.
Manners still matter, she says, because it
can open doors that money, power and
“Like now, for instance. My dad has been
admitted to the hospital, and the only
reason I’m sitting here with you is because
you were likeable. Otherwise, I probably
would’ve thought twice about coming here,”
Thank goodness for that!
If that’s not convincing enough, Dr P. M.
Forni, author of Choosing Civility: The 25
rules of Considerate Conduct reveals that
rudeness can (literally) make you sick.
“I’m no physician, but any doctor will say
that when we are involved in a rude
encounter, there are hormones — like
catecholamines, for example — that are
cascading into our system and making our
immune system weaker.
“If you have a boss that you perceive to be
unfair, you’re much more likely to have
cardiovascular disease,” Forni says.
Kee, however, says there is still a glimmer
of hope for humanity.
“If not, aren’t I wasting my time with this
job?” she remarks wryly.
The real reason for the interview, after
all, was to help readers who are bogged down
with social do’s and don’ts for the new
“I get many people asking me the best way to
react. The key is to treat etiquette as
consideration and respect for others, rather
than a discreet, inconvenient set of rules.
That way, it comes easier.”
So does that mean Kee’s never been
discourteous in her life?
“Nobody’s perfect,” she says, a little smile
playing at the corner of her lips. “But I
try my best.”