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When manners obscure meaning

Posted on September 03rd 2016


I came across this piece of dialogue in Scott Fitzgerald’s great novel, Tender is the Night. Dick Diver, one of the central characters, says: “Good manners are an admission that everybody is so tender that they have to be handled with gloves. Now, human respect – you don’t call a man a coward or a liar lightly, but if you spend your life sparing people’s feelings and feeding their vanity, you get so you can’t distinguish what SHOULD be respected in others.

And this was from an American, albeit written in 1934, when the social morays of society were somewhat different to those of today. However, I wonder how often we smother our own feelings when faced with ideas and opinions with which we do not agree. In an age of political correctness we bite our tongue for fear of upsetting someone or being seen as intolerant, ignorant, racist or just downright rude. Perhaps more honesty in our dialogue would make a refreshing change, and that does not just apply to politicians, bankers and business leaders, as at times, we can all be as equally guilty.