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Lapses in etiquette can lead to violence

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Updated: October 10, 2012 6:13AM



Dear Miss Manners: How long after a tragedy, such as the shootings in Aurora, Colo., is it appropriate to begin a discussion on the root causes and preventive actions to be taken?

Just as happened in Tucson, time cools the passions until the public forgets about it. This is more important than holding your pinkie out when drinking tea.

Gentle Reader: It seems to Miss Manners that such discussions always begin immediately, often before it is known exactly what happened or who did it. Sense, as well as taste, would suggest that the reaction of shock and sympathy should not be augmented with analyses and cures until the basic facts are established.

But surely what concerns you is that after everyone has voiced already-fixed opinions about gun control and mental health, and agreed that the event is “a wake-up call,” the public dozes off until the next alarm.

Not everybody has forgotten. Not the bereaved, no matter how often they are urged to “move beyond” it. What you notice is that a particularly horrific tragedy becomes less the topic of general talk as smaller, yet fresher examples of problematic behavior appear. Then it is most often cited, as you did the Tucson shootings, to show that nothing has changed. The catastrophe to end all catastrophes turns out to have been no more that than was World War I, as had been predicted, “the war to end all wars.”

Yet we keep hoping, and we keep studying behavior and trying to keep it within safe bounds.

Etiquette is a major force in this, you will be amazed to hear. An astonishing number of violent acts develop from transgressions of etiquette.

Even that perennially easy target, the pinkie in the air, has provocative implications having to do with international commerce and class strife.

This habit became a symbol of wealth, when few people could afford tea, let alone imported cups. It quickly progressed, along a path you will recognize, to becoming a symbol of pretentiousness. At that point, the pinkie in the air — no longer necessary because the West had developed teacups with handles — became bad manners.

Miss Manners is amazed that it is still cited, now that tea is one of the cheapest possible drinks available. She would be surprised if you had ever actually seen this gesture in real life.



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