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The Relative Age Of Chivalry

Is it dead or is it not, that is the question

Written by . Published on November 7th 2011.

The Relative Age Of Chivalry

“THE age of good manners is not dead,” says Emily Maitlis. The Newsnight presenter cites a number of personal experiences that have convinced her that all is well.

I suspect that if even in the mythical age of chivalry there were possible underlying motives behind the concept as much as there probably are today. Knights helping fair maidens probably wanted to shag said fair maiden or one of fair maiden’s friends. Agreeing to a gentleman’s pistols at dawn or adhering to Queensbury rules may not have been out of a sense of fairness but more to do with an ego that said, "I don’t have to resort to tricks to kill or bash you up."

I wonder if you took away the Sky or BBC tag from Maitlis and optional factors such as appearance and being a known TV figure if the emails replies would ping back quite as quick? Perhaps Maitlis has also confused professionalism with good manners.

Maitlis put forward some odd examples of evidence of good manners: “I'm constantly impressed by how much time my colleagues will give me to sort out a computer glitch or a misdirected printer.” Surely that is more down to ‘good working as a team’ skills rather than exceptional etiquette. 

For Maitlis, technology has definitely aided good manners. “If chivalry is about the speed of response that email or text offers, then I'd call that alive and kicking.”

I wonder if you took away the Sky or BBC tag from Maitlis and optional factors such as appearance and being a known TV figure if the emailreplies would ping back quite as quick? Perhaps Maitlis has also confused professionalism with good manners. 

You can almost visualise Maitlis beaming as she says, “And what about the willingness to help – displayed every second on social networks? Ask a favour, for a contact or a query on Twitter, and people will respond immediately, anxious to be of service.” Having around 12,500 Twitter followers must help a bit though, eh Emily?

Victoria Coren in the Observer piped into the debate saying that “No! With all due courtesy to the faire Lady Maitlisse, this is a VERY DANGEROUS WAY OF MODERN THINKING (sorry for shouting). It is a disaster that answering texts or emails quickly is considered good manners. It's an unworkable etiquette or, rather, e-tiquette”.

That’s an opinion many would share. The carousel of life does appear to move at breakneck speed and weeks can past by in a blur. All the same I argue that there will be an element of relative courtesy at play if we decide to answer an email promptly or not. 

The-Age-Of-Chivalry-David-RussellThe Age of Chivalry by David Russell

Emails and mobile communications have made our life easier but maybe we have lost a little courtesy in the process. Not that long ago if you went for a job interview you would get a letter sent to you stating if you were successful or not. Today you can go for interviews and not even get a one line Dear John by email. Likewise, we have all got so apathetic about sometime responding to emails. Let’s face it a one line courtesy response could take all of 30 seconds, but there you have it.  

And so I feel that Maitlis may also be a little naïve in thinking all is well based on her particular circumstances and that it might – just might – have something to do with the fact that Maitlis is blonde, attractive and the ‘talent’. 

Now, I have no research to hand from a Swedish university somewhere doing comparative tests on doors being held opened for supermodels and a loud of Plain Janes but I’d be cynical and bold enough to bet on the lettuce eaters.

What I have observed first hand, particularly in the world of media but also in social situations, is there is sometimes an evident hierarchy of manners. Status and attractiveness are typically better received than the opposite. Say the magic words and it’s all warm handshakes and attendant smiles, a paragon of conviviality opens up. Fall short in your rank and file appeal and a feigned polite ‘was nice to meet you’ with eyes already drifting to pastures new.

If you show greater attention to a person because they happen to be your boss rather than a colleague or a perceived minion that’s relative chivalry. Of course you can’t expect everyone to be as cordial with a stranger as they would be with a good friend, but the ability to show genuine courtesy to people from all walks of life and backgrounds is a true mark of good manners.

Maitlis may be in a fortunate position and so the level of courtesy flows easier. She may well be great at her job and a really nice person with it, but she must acknowledge, even privately, that other factors may come into play. Good manners and smiles, they say, cost nothing, just at times it may be all relative.


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