Bringing up baby badly
Etiquette classes, not only irrelevant to our society today, could very well be downright dangerous and destructive. -ST
By Fiona Chan
It occurred to me the other day that when I was a kid, I was a much more well-rounded human being than I am now.
This was mainly because of my parents, who were enlightened enough to enrol me in extensive extra-curricular enrichment classes in an effort to endow me with an all-encompassing education.
Those classes definitely had some lasting effects. Thanks to seven years of piano lessons, for instance, I am now able to say proudly that I can almost always recognise a piano when I see one.
Ballet classes, meant to keep me graceful and slim, have succeeded in prompting constant questions from acquaintances about whether I suffer from an eating disorder.
I also had a brief but satisfying dalliance with art courses. People might not often comment on my great artistic talent, but they frequently say I possess an artistic temperament of epic proportions.
Anyway, I started thinking about all this when I read in the papers last week that parents are now adding a new item to their children's after-school timetable: etiquette classes.
Now, as a fervent supporter of useful childhood education, I was dismayed and rather alarmed by the fact that kids are now learning manners.
Such instruction, surely, is not only irrelevant to our society today, but could very well be downright dangerous and destructive.
Think about it: If a whole generation of toddlers grows up learning how to say 'please' and 'thank you', it could change everything we know about the world.
Not only would these new polite youngsters be completely unable to relate to normal people, but they might also create the clearly false impression that everyone should endeavour to be as considerate as they are.
This could rip a gash in the very fabric of our society, topple the long-held value system of our cultures, even overturn the entire foundation upon which humankind has evolved.
Imagine, if you can, all the people around you being unfailingly, bizarrely courteous and well-behaved, as though part of some diabolical conspiracy to kill you with kindness.
Imagine a scenario where you hurry towards an open elevator and the strangers standing inside don't just gape at you gormlessly as the doors slide shut but instead hasten to lean on the 'door open' button.
Would not such behaviour bring about the collapse of society as we know it? Without being forced to make a flying leap in between closing elevator doors, how would people hone their reflexes and stay fit?
Imagine, further, throwing a party without the excitement and thrill of having no idea how many people are going to show up - simply because every invitee has thoughtfully taken the time to respond.
It boggles the mind to envision a society where 'RSVP' is not a four-letter word and people don't think an appropriate answer to the question: 'Can you make it to my party?' is 'See how first'.
Then imagine a world where women ask men 'Am I fat?' and the men don't have to pause to think about it. Imagine a universe where a girl doesn't calculate the size of a guy's bank account before agreeing to go out with him.
What unthinking and unreflective people we would be, if that happened.
Also imagine, if you will, not being able to hear every lyric to Rihanna's Umbrella on someone else's iPod on the MRT, or being deprived of every word of the conversation that your neighbour on the bus is blabbering into his iPhone.
How dull, how dreary, how devoid of entertainment such an existence would be.
What a shame, too, if in a lifetime of driving no motorist ever shoved his car into your lane without signalling. That would forever deny you the opportunity to make full use of the perfectly good horn in your car.
To top it all off, imagine joining a long queue at a bank and not having some auntie walk right up to the counter to ask some deceptively brief question that turns into a 10-minute transaction.
If all customers were uniformly cordial and well-mannered, how would companies ever be able to record their customerservice calls for training purposes?
Honestly, such a world is so unrealistic in this day and age that I shudder to even contemplate it.
Hence my plea to parents everywhere: Please, stick to the safe classes. Maybe baby skateboarding. Infant skydiving. Newborn skeet shooting. Welding 101 for toddlers. Those sorts of things.
Leave the learning of manners to the grown-ups, who should be experts at deciding exactly how well-rounded they want to be in the area of manners.
Perhaps, there should be adult etiquette classes instead, like adult ballet and adult piano, where people can go for lessons in treating their fellow human beings with the utmost respect and consideration.
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