What does Dr Manners think?

What does Dr Manners think? May 29, 2017

We live in a chronically boorish and uncivil world, and in the spirit of the great Miss Manners, above, I’m going to set up as an advisor on how to be not quite so unpleasant to each other. You can call me Doctor Manners. (Remember: I’m not a real doctor.)
I’ve heard from some correspondents already.

Dear Doctor Manners

I work for a guy who is the CEO of a large company, and I’m usually at meetings and conferences where he interacts with colleagues and visitors. The thing is, he’s got the worst handshake of anyone I’ve ever seen: he grabs the outstretched hand and then jerks it back and forth so hard the victim usually totters and stumbles. Who does that?! I’ve seen people exchange looks when this happens, while my boss is blithely doing the same thing to the next guest. I’ve tried to think of some tactful way I could hint to him that that’s not a great way to make friends, but I’m stumped.

Let’s first ask ourselves why someone would shake hands that way. What message is an assaultive handshake sending? “I’m the Alpha male here; I get to dominate you; I get to ignore normal protocols and just shake you like a rag doll, because I’m the boss. You have to put up with it because you’re not the boss, I am.” There seems to be a ravenous, greedy ego in play here. How does one correct an ego so greedy that even being the CEO of a large company won’t quiet it? Doctor Manners suspects this is a deep character flaw rather than the kind of politeness failure that can be tweaked by a helpful employee. Doctor Manners suggests finding another job.

Dear Doctor Manners

The other day some colleagues and I were invited to dinner at the house of a rich property tycoon (whose wife, sadly, was at one of their other residences). Imagine our surprise when the final course was served and we were each given a slice of chocolate cream pie with a scoop of ice cream, while the host was given the slice of pie and two scoops of ice cream. I had to struggle very hard not to burst out laughing, and I didn’t dare look at my colleagues. What would you have done?

Doctor Manners would have asked him solicitously what the illness was that required him to eat extra ice cream.

Dear Doctor Manners

My family is cursed with an unpleasant relative – my father’s uncle – who makes a habit of insulting people in public as well as in private. Unfortunately he just loves Twitter, and he has literally millions of followers, so his insults aren’t confined to a small inner circle. He calls women he doesn’t like fat and ugly, he makes up rude nicknames, he makes false accusations.

My father says his uncle sees himself as some kind of “insult comic” like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, above, but I think he’s just a mean guy who likes to insult people. What do you think? I guess there is an established genre of “insult comedy” so does that make it ok for people to make a habit of it?

Doctor Manners has never thought “insult comedy” was any kind of legitimate brand of wit or humor. Doctor Manners considers insults exactly what it says on the tin. Doctor Manners thinks your great-uncle should grow up.

Dear Doctor Manners

What do you do when a powerful man starts bragging in your presence about what a big deal he is with the ladies, ending up saying he can “grab them by the pussy”? Do you nod and laugh and say “awesome!” or do you frown and look in another direction or do you say “dude that’s assault!”? Or, for that matter, do you just throw your drink at his head?

Doctor Manners would be distraught at finding herself in the company of such a lawless and violent man. Doctor Manners would deliver a crisp rebuke and leave the scene as promptly as she could without actually sprinting.

Dear Doctor Manners

I’m the Executive Officer of a public interest organization, and I recently attended an international conference for heads of such organizations – human rights groups, civil liberties, humanist groups, that sort of thing. There were chiefs of huge organizations with millions of members and of much smaller, more local groups (I am one of the latter).

It was an excellent, productive conference, but there was one disconcerting moment as we were all proceeding to the hall where we were to line up to have a group photograph taken: the head of the biggest organization came up behind me and pushed me sharply aside so that he could step in front of me. He never caught my eye, said excuse me, or acknowledged my presence in any way, but instead stuck his chin in the air and glowered like Mussolini.

I tried to smooth it over, smiling and giving him a quick pat on the back as if we were mates and he had done nothing untoward, but unfortunately someone caught it all and the video went viral within hours. It’s possible you’ve seen it yourself. It’s not a good look for one of the world’s largest and oldest human rights groups. Do you think the members of his organization should ask him to step down?

Doctor Manners thinks that the first duty of anyone who takes on a prominent job of that kind is to be a decent human being. Decent human beings do not shove people aside because they want to get to the front, and they most especially do not shove less powerful people aside. No human rights group or other public interest group wants a preening bully at its helm. I think the members of his organization should insist that he step down, and that he make a large personal donation to your group.

Doctor Manners has had quite enough of bullies in public life, thank you very much.
• Editor’s note:  Conservative activist and “Pass the Salt” TV host Dave Daubenmire thinks bullies are great. Applauding Trump’s singular lack of common decency at the recent NATO gathering, he screamed gleefully:

Look at [Trump]. They’re all little puppies, ain’t nobody barking at him … He’s walking in authority. He walked to the front and center and they all know it, too, man. He just spanked them all … The Lord is showing us a picture of the authority we should be walking in.

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  • Brian Jordan

    Dear Dr Manners,
    It’s come to my attention that a country sitting on the United Nations Human Rights Council is, unnoticed by the other members, a theocracy that flogs people for “blasphemy”, executes homosexuals, is deeply misogynistic and is a generally bad lot. What should the other members of the Council do?

  • Dear Gentle Reader
    Doctor Manners is afraid the other members of the Council are helpless while so many liberal democracies treat this country as a valued ally in the struggle against “extremism” and a useful supplier of petroleum.

  • Brian Jordan

    Dear Dr Manners,
    Surely this is taking politeness too far. Those who sup with the devil ought to use a far longer spoon. Preferably one that extends not just below the salt, but beyond the pale.

  • Dear Gentle Reader
    If only politeness had anything to do with it. Doctor Manners would be a happy doctor if that were the case.
    Nonetheless: props for the adaptation of the adage. Doctor M does love a good adage-re-up.