Manners matter

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Manners matter

The author is a political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The word “manner” is derived from the Latin word manusarius, a compound word of manus, meaning hand, and arius, meaning method. Rather than common etiquette in modern sense, it is presumed that it referred to the appearance and conduct shown externally.

Ancient Greek men considered showing the palm or raising the arm as a sign of weakness. So it was not a good gesture of manners. On the other hand, in the 19th century Europe, shaking hands became a symbol of greeting as it proves that you are not concealing a weapon. As civilization evolved, the types of common manners also changed.

Forks, which are now an integral part of Western dining, have been tabooed in medieval Europe for the religious reason that it resembles the devil’s trident. When forks used in Greece and the Middle East were brought to Central and Western Europe, Europeans reacted sensitively. Forks became widely used in the 18th century when modernization began.

As time went by, manners were given a public nuance. In his book “The History of Manners,” Nobert Elias, a 20th-century German sociologist, wrote that manners were created to somewhat relieve social inequality by protecting the socially weak. As the famous line from the movie “Kingsman” goes, “Manners maketh man” puts weight on the social meaning.

In modern and contemporary history, political leaders’ manners often lead to critical moments. In 1941, Winston Churchill was in his room naked after a bath during his visit to the White House. U.S. President Roosevelt visited without a notice and excused himself after seeing Churchill naked. Then, Churchill responded without embarrassing Roosevelt, “You see, Mr. President, I have nothing to conceal from you.” As Britain desperately wanted the United States to participate in World War II, Churchill’s witty manners may have played a diplomatic role.

With the presidential election right around the corner in Korea, a debate over manners has begun. Opposition People Power Party (PPP) candidate Yoon Suk-yeol was under fire for putting his shoed feet on a seat saved for one of his campaign staff on the train. After Yoon was criticized by the campaign of the ruling Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung, the PPP counterattacked after finding a photo of Lee smoking in a restaurant eight years ago. Voters are sighing. It would be too much to expect the witty manners that Churchill had displayed eight decades ago. But I wish they would at least show some manners to the voters.

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