Mind Your P’s and Q’s

The ABC’s of Professionalism

There are several stories about how the English expression, “mind your P’s and Q’s” came to be. One such theory says that 17th Century barkeepers kept track of their patrons’ consumption and would instruct them to “mind their pints and quarts.” Centuries later my Grandma used the same expression with her young grandchildren. It never dawned on me that she was concerned about my drinking habits. From the perspective of a six-year old, I assumed she was talking about my manners.

It’s a curious thing that we have so many words for this antiquated expression.  Thankfully we’re still concerned about subject, whatever one chooses to call it.

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.” — Emily Post (1872-1960)

Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.” — Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

“Nothing is less important than which fork you use. Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor.” — Emily Post (1872-1960)

“Life is not so short but that there is always time for courtesy — Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Civility costs nothing and buys everything.” — Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762)

“Without an acquaintance with the rules of propriety, it is impossible for the character to be established.” — Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC), The Confucian Analects

“Observe decorum, and it will open a path to morality.” — Mason Cooley (1927-2002)

The fact that mankind has adopted codes of behavior has been constant throughout recorded history. What have changed are the specific rules and their relative importance. The character of George Washington was strongly influenced by “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” Here are a few samples:

#15 — Keep your nails clean and short, also your hands and teeth clean yet without showing any great concern for them.

#19 — Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.

#22 — Shew not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

#108 — When you speak of God, or His attributes, let it be seriously and with reverence. Honor and obey your natural parents although they be poor.

#110 — Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

— Catherine Millard, “Rewriting of America’s History” pp.59-60

Those with adult children know first-hand how technology and generational attitudes affect changes in the current code. Certain “P’s and Q’s” of one generation might be “don’t know and don’t care” to a younger demographic. They are busy with other priorities. I don’t have access to President Washington’s entire list, but it’s a certain bet that it does not include the proper way to “de-friend” someone from one’s cellular favorites.

Cell phones and email are among the top disruptive technologies of the last 15 years. Appropriate behaviors are still being defined and learned.  For fun, I visited some Web sites that addressed cell phone etiquette of which I chose five for comparison. The authors agreed that ringers should be off in places like theaters, cell phones and driving don’t mix, and talking louder on a cell phone is unnecessary and rude. Four of the five complained about personalized ring tones. After that, they were all over the map, indicating we don’t yet have a common baseline for cell phone etiquette.

One way to learn about manners is to Google “pet peeves”. There are pet peeve lists about cell phone usage, driving, recruiting, baseball, the workplace, the bathroom, and even pet pet peeves. Those gripes which enough people share will eventually spawn new or revised rules of etiquette.  However, these lists also contain some pretty petty pet peeves. (Maybe alliteration is on yours.)

Bad manners (good manners, too) affect everyone.

“Whoever one is, and wherever one is, one is always in the wrong if one is rude.” — Maurice Baring (1874–1945)

Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are.” — Author Unknown

There’s an interesting three-way relationship among respect, manners, and morals in the following quotation:

“To have respect for ourselves guides our morals; and to have a deference for others governs our manners.” — Lawrence Sterne (1713-1768)

The subtle but important meaning is an inferred relationship between morals and manners. Without this connection, manners would merely be arbitrary conventions. Good manners come in two forms: acts of kindness and omissions of kindness (things one refrains from doing or saying.) In most cases these are small, simple matters requiring little knowledge and effort.

“Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

“Good manners: The noise you don’t make when you’re eating soup.” — Bennett Cerf (1898-1971)

Like all character issues, minding one’s P’s and Q’s produces tangible social and professional benefits.  In fact, the return often far exceeds the investment.

“Politeness and consideration for others is like investing pennies and getting dollars back.” — Thomas Sowell (1930- ), Creators Syndicate

“Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.” — Clarence Thomas (1948- )

“Outcomes rarely turn on grand gestures or the art of the deal, but on whether you’ve sent someone a thank-you note.” — Bernie Brillstein (1931-2008), “The Little Stuff Matters Most”

P’s and Q’s can help produce “peace and quiet” in a fast-paced, stressful world for you and those whom you meet.

“Good manners and soft words have brought many a difficult thing to pass.” — Sir John Vanbrugh (1664?-1726)

God bless,

— CC

[ O=Optimism | Index | R=Responsibility ]

© Copyright November 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
Read more “Clancy’s Quotes” at: ClancyCross.WordPress.com

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