Is there a relationship between manners, our expectations of others and love?
Weaving together three articles from several years ago, I think there may be. This post is really me trying to see if this works. So you may disagree and I’m open to discussion.
First of all let’s think briefly about manners: those actions we try to instil into our children to help them survive in polite society.
According to an article in New Scientist in September 2013, “Manners maketh man: how disgust shaped human evolution” by Valerie Curtis [paywall] …
We need to better understand manners for two reasons: first, because they are a principal weapon in the war on disease, and second, because manners underpin our ability to function as a cooperative species … [M]anners are so important that they should be up there with fire and the invention of language as a prime candidate for what makes us human.
The first, and most ancient, function of manners is to solve the problem of how to be social without getting sick.
Those who master manners are set to reap the many benefits that come from living in a highly cooperative ultra-society. Manners are therefore a sort of proto-morality, a set of behaviours that we make “second nature” early in life so that we can avoid disgusting others with our parasites and our antisocial behaviour.
It’s the “cooperative society” part which interests me here as this seems to mesh with the idea (Business Insider; 25 March 2013) that
What one person expects of another can come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophesy.
This was tested on teachers and children. Teachers were told (randomly) a child was a star or a dunce; the children didn’t know how they’d been allocated. A while later when the child’s subsequent achievement was independently tested the stars had done significantly better than the dunces.
Thus we have a situation which reflects what I always say:
If you treat people as you would like them to be, you give then the space and incentive to grow and develop. If you treat them as they are, then they stay as they are.
If you expect manners, you’ll (hopefully) get manners; if you expect no manners, you’ll get no manners. And like it or not, manners oil the wheels of society.
So where does love come into all this?
Reflect on this comment from Candice Chung in an article “Why Chinese parents don’t say I love you” from the Sydney Morning Herald in July 2016.
From a sociological perspective, studies have also found that the phrase ‘I love you’ tends to be used less in a high context culture [eg. Asia] where “expectations are high and well documented”. While in the West (low context society), relationships are often managed with ‘I love you reminders’ to reassure someone of their importance [whereas], in high context culture, “intensely personal and intimate declarations can seem out of place and overly forceful”.
What this is saying seems to be that the Asian way, covert love, is thought to be less intense than the Western, more overt, way. In fact it seems to me the opposite is true and that the Asian way puts far more pressure on families and relationships than we do in the West. There seem to be far greater expectations of family connection, responsibility, loyalty etc. amongst Asians than amongst Westerners, and that the Western way appears to me to be more balanced and permissive of personal freedom.
And that amounts to essentially a difference of manners and expectations between cultures, so it is no real wonder that the cultures work differently.