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In My Words: Make America mannered again

Elon University School of Law Dean Luke Bierman recently published a column in regional newspapers about how America can regain its manners. 

The following column appeared recently in the Charleston (S.C.) Post & Courier, the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News, the Statesville (N.C.) Record & Landmark and the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer via the Elon University Writers Syndicate. Views are those of the author and not necessarily of Elon University. 


By Luke Bierman

In the midst of what is likely to be the most contentious period in at least a generation, my fellow Americans, let’s get back to basics. Let’s make America mannered again.

Luke Bierman, dean of Elon University School of Law

​Small steps, my friends. Simple acts of manners. Gentle kindnesses. Neighborliness.

There is no shortage of evidence, quantitative and qualitative, that we have become less thoughtful in our actions. The trendiness of mindfulness and empathy might be characterized as cries for help in a society fraught with stress and bad conduct. We seem to have forsaken the objective reasonableness of thinking about those around us for the subjective narcissism of our internal needs.

So let’s commit ourselves to reestablishing politeness as a norm to break this spell of incivility in our civil society. Let’s make America mannered again.

Easy to say, hard to do? Not so, say I.

Have a request of a domestic worker or server?  Begin by just saying, “please.”  Need to have a serious or difficult conversation with a coworker?  End by just saying, “thank you.”  See how easy it really is?  We already are making America mannered again. 

Let’s keep going with some other easy steps. Are you using an elevator? Let’s resolve to allow occupants to exit before rushing in. Are you using an escalator? Let’s agree to keep walking away from the moving stairs before stopping to look around.

Traveling away for a break for whatever you need a break from? Before we board that train or plane, let’s tag those stuffed pieces of luggage and get control of those heavy backpacks so we don’t smack other passengers senseless as we mindlessly wander to find our seats. And if we do bash someone with those enormous carry-ons, let’s be aware of it and own it by saying, “excuse me.”

Here’s another simple way to make America mannered again. As you walk down a street, especially as you enter a crosswalk, let’s look up from the phone. You don’t even have to turn it off or put it away. Just look up so you don’t bump into another person or get crushed by that oncoming truck.

And should you nevertheless happen to knock into someone, let’s agree to say, “sorry.” While we’re thinking about our phones, let’s also agree that most other people don’t give a hoot about what we’re saying, tweeting, typing, playing or otherwise doing while we use our devices.

If we can agree to that, let’s then also agree to turn down the volume on our devices and then on our own voices. And as we turn down our collective volume, let’s also turn down some of the vitriol. Another simple way to make America mannered again is to watch our language, especially around young children and older people who might be confused or offended by certain profane words.

Provocative language is useful and even necessary in many settings but it also can be impolite in some contexts. This is not a plea for censorship but rather for common sense.

Let’s agree to be thoughtful about how we communicate especially regarding those who may be privy to our conversations with others but may not want to be.

These and many other simple gentle acts might, in a troubled time, offer us a collective sigh of relief. These basic civil modes of conduct might remind us that, despite our sharp differences on politics, health care, economics, award shows, sports and many other timely topics, we can get along. Simple steps.

Back to basics. Civil society. Let’s make America mannered again.

Owen Covington,
3/8/2017 9:55 AM