March 11, 2016

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Hey, are you paying attention, are you listening?

Cynthia DewesBack in the days when the Indianapolis Colts were winning consistently, I’m told, part of their success was due to a play developed by quarterback Peyton Manning, center Jeff Saturday and assistant coach Howard Mudd. When Peyton touched Jeff’s backside, all the players knew to start a certain countdown and then take off.

Sounds like a plan, right? But the reason they developed it was because the crowd noise was so high, the players couldn’t hear the quarterback’s spoken signals. It seemed that this was true in almost all the stadiums where they played. Of course, crowds had always cheered on their teams, but now the racket was so loud, it actually interfered with the game

The noise thing is not confined to sports venues, either. Think of TV shows like the one hosted by Ellen DeGeneres. The audience screaming is so loud we can hardly recover in time to hear the few periods of conversation in between bouts. It makes me wonder if admittance to the show is based on a shrill test.

All of which brings me to good manners, an archaic term we used to employ as accepted, and expected, behavior. Today we tend to think of good manners as having to do with Emily Post (remember her?) or etiquette lessons, something stuffy and constraining. It involved bowing to social pressure.

But the real reason for displaying good manners is not that. It’s treating others with the same respect we’d like to receive from them.

Think about it. When we’re dining out, we’re often distracted by cell phone conversations nearby, always conducted loudly enough to inform the entire room. Or how about being bumped into on the sidewalk and given a dirty look because the perpetrator was on the phone? Walking or driving to the right seems to be an imperative we no longer obey.

At almost every event, public or private, people are glued to their “devices.” Family dinners, club meetings, cultural events, you name it, every place where people gather is filled with soft tapping and hands full of small glowing lights. People’s attention, if not diverted entirely, is certainly challenged.

Paying attention is probably the most respectful way we can relate to another person. We feel verified, somehow, when someone looks us right in the eye as we speak, or responds in a way that shows they are really listening. It seems to me the information we gain by paying attention to others is much more productive than whatever we get by looking at an electronic display.

As parents know, paying attention is, in fact, crucial. Toddlers need to feel that Mom is hearing what they want to tell her. Teenagers need to know that Mom and Dad are considering what they say, not just dismissing their concerns to be rid of their pesky remarks. How many times have we heard news stories about parents’ horrified reactions to their children’s misbehaviors or crimes. Were they paying attention?

It seems no one is listening to our complaints, So since we can only change our own behaviors, not those of others, our only option is to use good manners at all times. We can really listen, sometimes patiently, to others, and reserve our use of devices for times when we’re alone. We can refrain from reacting to rudeness (another archaic term) with equal rudeness.

In short, we can remember that we’re Christians.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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