On the Leonard Lopate Radio program August 5, 2008, Dick Meyer discussed his book, "Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millenium". The link is below.
Several of his observations merit reflection. He suggests that manners are diminishing in our society because we no longer recognize the value of conformity in the creation of community. He suggests the geographic mobility of our society undermines lifetime relationships which are an important force in personal happiness.
I was intrigued by his discussion because he admits he feels like a kermudgeon which is a feeling I have had more often in the last couple of years. The source of my feeling is also a noticed lack of manners. It strikes me that we often conform our behaviour to expectations, not because there is anything inherently right in the expectation, nor because our freedom is being unreasonlably restricted by convention, but rather as an opportunity to relate to and participate in the community.
I have had a similar thought in my study of biblical tests and observance of Christian tradition. In prescribed religious behavior I have detected at least two categories of prescribed behaviour. One category is those things one must do for the sake of justice and love. These are unnegotiable behaviours such as "Thou shalt do no murder." The other category however does not contain in itself any rightness or wrongness. These are obligatory only by a convention of a group and observation of them is only compulsary in as much as one wants to be part of that group. These are behaviours such as, "The Nicene Creed is recited on Sundays and major feast days," or "Fridays outside Easter and Christmastide are days of special observance."
It is this second kind of behaviour that people do not seem to understand is also important for the creation of a thriving community. Listen to the webcast and see what you think.