The word “etiquette” brings to mind arbitrary rules for dinner tables, ballrooms, and high society, but the core concepts of good etiquette are not only practical (even in those situations) but applicable to the everyday.
Before we get into the how of etiquette, there are some things that must be said about why--and specifically what we say when we use it. The most universal and obvious example, of course, is clothing.
- Respect for yourself. You can think about this in two ways:
First, when do you feel best about yourself? When you’ve sat in your pajamas all day long and haven’t brushed your hair? Or when you’ve picked out your favorite set of fresh streetwear or sharpest formal clothes?
Second, what is it that encourages you to put that work into how you look? Do you do it when you feel apathetic, lazy, and out of sorts, or when you’re feeling on top of the world and confident in the person you are? What you wear and how you wear it says a lot about how you think about yourself.
- Respect for others. Let’s stick with the etiquette of clothes. Let’s say someone agreed to go out with you on a nice date to a good sit-down restaurant. You’re feeling great about it, so of course (like we just talked about) you dress up in a good outfit, make sure your hair is styled, and show up on time–and they showed up fifteen minutes late in a wrinkled t-shirt and jeans. How does that make you feel? Like they respect you and are willing to take the extra time to put their best foot forward in your relationship? What you choose to wear when you’re around other people doesn’t just reflect on who you are, it reflects on whether you think other people are worth your effort or respect.
- Respect for what you do. This is my personal favorite because of how often we think about it unintentionally. This, too, works with the clothes-example. If you went to a doctor’s office and the doctor came in to see you in a white coat with stains on it and wearing beat-up sneakers, not only would you assume he doesn’t think much of himself or of you, but you’ll question whether or not he takes his job seriously. The coat may not have a “practical” use (like a mask for a welder or a fireman’s outfit might) but it’s something we positively associate not just with individual doctors, but with the very idea of being a doctor. The same goes for lawyers in suits, and soldiers (and students) in uniforms. They could all do their job without those outfits, but by wearing certain things we show a dedication to the highest ideal of our occupation, whatever that might be.
These three “voices” echo through each facet of etiquette. Whether it’s the terms we use to refer to ourselves and others, the motions we take, or the order in which we perform actions, we’re always saying at least one of these three things:
- I respect myself
- I respect others
- I respect what I do.
In a later post, I’ll talk about some ways that we can use etiquette and its symbolism even in a modern world. Until then, dress sharp, keep your head up, and take pride in what you do!