When I was younger-about 12 or so-my brother and I were having dinner with our father at a restaurant in town. When we were finishing up, a colleague of my father, a female judge, saw us leaving as she was entering. When my father introduced my brother and me to her, I was at the same time removing my baseball cap to adjust it. No sooner had I done this than the judge said how impressed she was with my manners as a young man, removing his hat in the presence of a lady. I took the compliment-a compliment to my father, too, for having raised us boys so well-but I did not realize at the time that this was a common courtesy to be honored in the presence of a lady due my respect.
The problem of etiquette today is a trite topic in some sense. The older generations chide the younger, and the younger rebel against the older. It’s cliche. The question ties into a number of lectures and events we see plastered across campus on an annual basis. Etiquette and manners play a role in Kerry Cronin’s yearly talk on dating and Fr. McNellis’ annual lecture on how men can be good men and good leaders. UGBC’s campaign “Dress with Respect” every Halloween also involves many layers of modern etiquette. Numerous Letters to the Editor of The Heights have pointed out the (sometimes appalling) behavior of undergraduates who ride the Boston College buses. And there is always the infamous problem of partying on campus and the behavior associated with the late night culture at BC.
In short, there is no lack of attention paid to various issues across campus all of which involve, to one degree or another, the question of modern etiquette.
What are we to do, then? Should we cram ourselves into the narrow sense of propriety touted by the likes of the Downton Abbey folk? Or do we need crash courses in the art of holding a fork and setting a table? I do not think so. I am not proposing we all attempt to seek out the wisdom of some ancient knowledge of high court conduct. Nor do I think we should carry ourselves in an uptight Emily Post-esque way.
Equally so, there are certain conventions and norms that have been culturally (if not universally) established and by which we must live in order to be properly functioning members of modern American society. What is more, I think such convention is demanded of us as members of a great academic institution like BC, and we are (and should be) expected to live up to and by these standards. As many of the talks, lectures, and events hosted across campus have emphasized, the kind of behavior associated with the drinking and party culture on college campuses is unbecoming of students at BC-indeed, it is unbecoming of good, smart, inspired, and promising young people like ourselves. It should not be necessary that we have campaigns about “dressing with respect,” or about treating women as our sisters in the human species and not objects of desire, or about refraining from foul-mouthed language on the buses and at sporting events, but with things the way they are, these campaigns are necessary.
So, then, what are we to do?
I think one resource has tried to tackle this tricky contemporary issue with a level of boldness and tact unlike others. The blog Art of Manliness was founded in 2008 as a resource for “reviving the lost art of manliness.” Not only do they provide tips on hunting, shaving, dressing, and do-it-yourself projects, but they also offer advice on relationships, money management, and occupation, as well as long discussions on virtue, the essence of masculinity, and the question of what it means to be and act like a man in modern society.
Art of Manliness has repeatedly posted articles on how men should be contemporary gentlemen. Some of the suggestions are familiar trends, seen even as posts across Facebook-the classic pick a lady up for the date, bring flowers, hold the door for her, stand street-side when walking down a sidewalk, etc. But the blog has also pursued a series on Jack London as a case study in thumos, or spiritedness, a characteristic dimension of virility. Sometimes using the words and thoughts of ancient men like Seneca and other Greco-Roman figures, the blog treats questions of how a man gives advice, grieves with a companion, protects his family, and shows gratitude for his blessings.
Perhaps there is the risk of reductionism in this project, but it is at least a start for those who wish to investigate more than the tip of the iceberg of modern manly etiquette. Often the Art of Manliness will point readers in the direction of further reading or inspirational models of manliness.
I am unaware of a comparable blog or resource for women. I hesitate to make suggestions because I do not come from a female perspective. Darling Magazine might provide some suitable suggestions for women seeking to reclaim womanly character, but I would suggest looking around.
All of this is to say that BC and other colleges need to respond to the lack of etiquette across campuses today. The many events, programs, and resources provided by universities offer insight into and sometimes practical advice for this problem. We do not need to recreate Downton Abbey in every academic hall, but we do need to react to the kind of behavior that has entrenched itself as the norm among college students. I think a blog like the Art of Manliness (and, if there were one, the Art of Womanliness!) might offer the quick, online resource that could start the conversation on behavior and etiquette for many people.
But until then, I tip my hat good day to you!
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.