There’s always a tension between how much we should follow our instincts and how much we should yield to social conventions. But at times like ours, the tendency is to tilt too far toward our instincts, since the conventions are changing fast and there’s no consensus about them anyway. There’s a risk in that. You don’t know whom you might be offending or how you might be sabotaging your own success.
The original etiquette manuals of Western civilization were in fact success manuals. As author Steven Pinker notes, they taught knights and nobles how to conduct themselves in the court of the king—which is where we get the concepts of “courtly” and “courtesy.”[See this related post for more on the history of manners, including Pinker’s provocative suggestion that the rise of manners at the dinner table helped bring about a steep decline in violence on the streets.]
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