Apr 032014

I was pretty well-amused by this funny column: 10 Things to Never Say to Women Who Don’t Want Kids. Here’s the one that I’ve heard most often:

7. “You’ll change your mind.”

Maybe I will change my mind about having kids, but I’ll never change my mind about you being tacky as hell. If you find yourself about to say this to a childless woman, please punch yourself in the face and then go home and watch Gigli five times as punishment.

It’s wildly rude to second-guess people’s life-choices in this way… and just imagine the uproar if childless people said that — or worse: “you’ll regret that someday” — to people with kids.

Here’s my basic perspective on the decision to have kids or not:

Because Paul and I chose not to have kids, I’ve been able to do tons of awesome things that wouldn’t be possible with kids, including graduate school, my career, and riding horses seriously. However… if we’d had kids, I’d be doing tons of different but still awesome things that are only possible with kids, like homeschooling or teaching my kids to ride horses.

“Should we have kids or not?” is major fork in the road of life. You might have a strong preference one way or the other, but please, recognize that not everyone feels the same way — and that life offers all kinds of fabulous joys, whichever path a person takes!

Jan 072014

Recently, I ran across this list of 25 Manners Every Kid Should Know By Age 9. It’s not a great list in many ways, but some of the proposed rules are fine. Kids should learn to make polite requests, including saying “please” and “thank-you.” Obviously, that’s part of being a decent adult too.

However, I have a strong aversion to the rules designed just for kids, such as #3:

Do not interrupt grown-ups who are speaking with each other unless there is an emergency. They will notice you and respond when they are finished talking.

Really? Adults interrupt each other all the time. Can’t kids be taught those mores — or how to do that politely? Surely, this rule seems to imply that any conversation among adults, no matter how trivial, is more important than any concern of the child, except life-and-death. That’s not good!

Also, #6:

The world is not interested in what you dislike. Keep negative opinions to yourself, or between you and your friends, and out of earshot of adults.

Dislikes are important! Knowing what you dislike is part of knowing what you like. A kid who can introspect and explain his dislikes is going to be better equipped to pursue his values, both as a kid and as an adult. He will be able to assert himself, including against bullies and exploiters. Yes, dislikes can be expressed in rude or otherwise inappropriate ways. However, merely expressing dislikes is far from rude in and of itself. That’s why adults express dislikes routinely. (Alas, part of the problem here is that parents often don’t take the likes and dislikes of their children seriously.)

Oh, and #13:

Never use foul language in front of adults. Grown-ups already know all those words, and they find them boring and unpleasant.

To that, I will only say: Speak for yourself, jerkwad!

Obviously, I’m not opposed to all rules designed for kids. Kids aren’t just small adults, so any rules should consider their ignorance, lack of self-control, clumsiness, weakness, and other relevant facts. So definitely don’t let the two-year-old run around the house with the kitchen knives.

However, when teaching social graces, kids need practice at polite methods of accomplishing their aims. Simply demanding that kids never interrupt, keep silent about what they dislike, and never curse doesn’t do that. Such bans leave kids without guidance and without practice — and likely with some resentment of their parents for being hypocritical and oppressive. Parents, you can do better than that!

May 272013

It’s commonly said that tone is lost in email in such a way that often exacerbates conflicts. Certainly, that’s true. Recently, I realized part of the reason why that’s true.

Email is just words, and tone is largely communicated by vocal patterns and body language. Hence, tone is not communicated well via email. That’s a problem, since the same words, delivered maliciously or benevolently, have very different effects. However, that’s not the core problem in and of itself.

The core problem is that tone is a hugely important element of communication, such that readers will infer tone from whatever information they have available to them. With email, that means that tone is largely inferred from background knowledge about and judgments of the writer.

When a relationship is well-established as friendly (or malignant), the absence of tone in the communication isn’t much of a problem: the tone intended will likely be the tone inferred. However, when people are in conflict, the fact that tone isn’t communicated but rather inferred is a recipe for disaster.

In such cases, the reader will easily read a tone into the text that the writer didn’t intend without being aware of doing so. So a perfectly ordinary statement might be interpreted as snide or mean if the reader feels vulnerable and defensive due to an unresolved conflict with the writer. As a result, the conflict will often escalate suddenly, even though the writer intended the opposite.

That possibility is why it’s so important to pick up the phone to have some kind of real conversation when in the midst of a conflict with another person. (Better yet, meet with the person in person or via video call.) That’s often really hard for people. It’s really hard for me. I’m not concerned about the greater precision of writing, as some people are. Rather, I prefer the emotional distance of email for the simple reason that conflict is difficult and unpleasant.

Alas, that greater precision and distance often comes at a steep price — namely, prolonging or worsening the conflict. That’s worth remembering, I think, when considering whether to write that email or not.


The Tea Party Patriots left me yet another robo-call message on my iPhone on Monday… and I see that they called again this evening. I’ve never signed up for anything from them, and I have no idea how they got my mobile number. Yet for many months now, I’ve gotten periodic robo-calls from them.

Every time this happens, I make repeated requests — through all available means of communication — to be removed from their call list. They’ve never responded, and they have obviously not removed my mobile number from their call list.

I don’t have any way to block them on my iPhone (as I would on my landline), and them calling my cellphone is particularly bothersome. Any suggestions for what to do to make it stop?

Even if that’s not possible, I’m happy to spread the word that the Tea Party Patriots seems to be run by a bunch of jerkwads without the slightest clue about basic manners.

Here’s my latest email to them… not that I expect it to do any good:

You left me yet another robo-call message on my iPhone on Monday… and I see that you called again this evening. Every time this happens, I’ve contacted you through multiple channels with clear requests to be removed from your call list. You have never responded, and you have obviously not removed my mobile number from your call list.


So, for the upteeth time, I ask that you remove my cell number — [redacted] — from your call list! I am sick and tired of these intrusive and unwelcome calls from you: it’s harassment.

Until you respond, and confirm that you’ve removed my phone number, I will continue to publicly shame you for being such rude jerkwads. I’ve already posted something to Facebook, and I’m writing a blog post now.

Oh, and you owe me — and probably a whole lot of other people — a BIG FAT APOLOGY.

I’d be nicer about it… except that I’ve already written about ten such emails, all of which have been ignored. *sigh*

Never Too Rich or Too Thin?

 Posted by on 13 April 2013 at 10:00 am  Ethics, Etiquette, Health
Apr 132013

A few days ago, I stumbled on this blog post — Think Twice Before You Praise Someone For Losing Weight. It piqued my interest because I often ponder questions about weight, health, and body image. Also, it seemed relevant to the question I’ll answer on moral judgments of obese people on Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio.

The blog post begins:

It’s really the most natural reaction: when we see a friend, colleague, family member, or acquaintance who has visibly lost weight, we love to say to them, “You’ve lost weight! You look great!”

These statements are usually made with the best of intentions. We are genuinely happy for them, we want to show them that their hard work and sacrifices are being noticed and deserve to be acknowledged. But I want to say something that may seem controversial: we should all think twice before acknowledging or praising someone’s visible weight loss.


First, we don’t always know how or why that person lost the weight for which we are commending them.

For example, my friend Anna has Lupus, and at one point, she rapidly lost 30 pounds in a couple months. She was constantly getting positive affirmations about how great she looked and to keep up the good work. For a number of reasons, Anna chose to keep her diagnosis confidential (to most people). So, she was caught between two worlds: one in which she had to reveal why she was losing weight, and another where she just had to grin and bear it.

Anna said, “Every time I heard those words, it was like a punch in the stomach. It not only made me feel disgusted about my body, but it also put me in a position where I wanted to share my diagnosis with people, just to shut them up.”

My cousin’s professor faced a similar dilemma when she returned to the university from summer break, having lost a visible amount of weight. She was greeted with the same seemingly positive affirmations. What no one realized was, her mother had died weeks before. Her weight loss was a result of stress.

The smiles and the effusive praise offered to these two women were in direct opposition to the pain that caused the weight loss to begin with.

And even when someone isn’t dealing with an uncontrollable circumstance, like a death in the family, or a terminal disease, we don’t know how someone arrives at his/her weight loss.

It’s a good article, and I definitely recommend reading the rest of it: Think Twice Before You Praise Someone For Losing Weight. (It goes on to discuss some other cases, as well as make some important qualifications.)

Obesity is undoubtedly very common in our culture, and as people have packed on the pounds, the view that low body weight means good health seems to have taken hold in a very strong way. Yes, that’s been a change in the culture, as these 1950s weight gain ads for women show.

Yet the fact is that being underweight is often a sign of health problems — or it’s a risk factor for death if a person becomes ill, because their body lacks reserves (muscle or fat) for survival. I’m not making that up, as various studies (such as this one) show that being underweight is associated with increased mortality.

My point here is not to extol obesity or anything, since that comes with its own practical difficulties and health concerns. Rather, my point is that we (me included) need to reject the now-standard assumption in our culture that a thinner person is a better person — healthier, sexier, happier, whatever. Often, weight loss is for the best… but not always!

Addendum from April 19th

As for the question about moral judgments of obese people that I answered on Sunday’s Radio Show… the question was:

Is it right or wrong to condemn people for being obese? Obviously, obese and morbidly obese people have made mistakes in their lives. Are they morally culpable for those mistakes? How should other people judge their characters? If I see an obese person on the street, should I infer that he is lazy and unmotivated? Should I refuse to hire an obese person because I suspect he won’t work as hard as a non-obese person? Is obesity a moral failing – or are there other considerations?

My Answer, In Brief: Given that weight is not a good metric for health and that obesity has many causes, for a person to assume that obese people must be morally or psychologically weak is empirically false and morally unjust. If you notice that in yourself, fight it!

Download or Listen to My Full Answer:

Via Vital Objectives, our own Christian Wernstedt shared the link to the podcast on Facebook, with the following remarks, which I agree with wholeheartedly:

This audio clip has has a good discussion on what one should keep in mind when judging weight problems in both oneself and in other people.

As a coach/practitioner I would add that helping people getting rid of excess fat is one of the most difficult issues to deal with because it takes time and effort to achieve in a *sustainable* and *healthful* way, but is very simple to do in a shortsighted and harmful way.

You want to lose fat and pose for before and after pictures? Tape worms, starvation or HCG would do the trick!

But…the body stores fat for reasons which often add up to the life serving option versus the alternatives.

Therefore, simplistically and narrowly targeting the fat storage process (my fancy way of saying “fad diet” or “60 day detox”), and you might, for instance, each time you do this, functionally age your hormonal profile and ultimately end up buying the loss of 10 pounds today for being awarded the body comp of an ostrich later.

Alas, I’ve lived that. The main reason why my thyroid gave up the ghost, I think, was that I was fasting too often for too long in an effort to lose a few more pounds. The result was months of mental and physical disability, followed by years of health problems, plus 30 pounds of weight gain. Lesson learned.

Digital Manners

 Posted by on 27 March 2013 at 10:00 am  Communication, Etiquette, Technology
Mar 272013

This article — Disruptions: Digital Era Redefining Etiquette — raises some fascinating questions about the evolution of manners with the rise of the internet, social media, and other new technology. It begins:

Some people are so rude. Really, who sends an e-mail or text message that just says “Thank you”? Who leaves a voice mail message when you don’t answer, rather than texting you? Who asks for a fact easily found on Google?

Don’t these people realize that they’re wasting your time?

Of course, some people might think me the rude one for not appreciating life’s little courtesies. But many social norms just don’t make sense to people drowning in digital communication.

For me, the burden of online communications doesn’t come from the mere inflow per se: I’m good at reviewing, then deleting or archiving my incoming mail. (Hence, I do send those little thank-yous, as I like to acknowledge receipt and express appreciation.)

The major burden lies in what I need to do in response to some email — not just replying (which often requires a bit of research), but also making decisions, updating projects, and the like. The problem is compounded when I receive the information by some means other than email — such as a Facebook message, tweet, or text message. Those venues are perfect for quick replies, and I prefer them to email for that. But I never use them as storage, as I do my email inbox. So if I can’t reply right away, then they’ll just be forgotten. (That’s not always a bad thing!)

I expect that managing my online communications will always be something of a struggle. Yet over the last few years, I’ve done better in two ways.

  • I improved my implementation of Getting Things Done, thanks to some tips that Andrew Miner offered in this interview. I don’t have projects masquerading as tasks any longer. I don’t use artificial deadlines. Instead, I’ve gotten in the habit of making progress on critical areas of focus by just reviewing my projects and tasks, then buckling down to get some stuff done. (Amazingly, that works!)
  • I’ve developed the habit of writing very short emails. I almost never discuss anything other than logistics via email: if I want to have a serious conversation, that must be done in person or via the phone. Or, if a person has a philosophic question, that should be submitted to the queue. I engage in substantive discussion in Facebook comments pretty regularly though. That’s because others chime in with interesting remarks, the medium encourages short comments and dialogue, and I can simply drop out when I get busy.

At this point, I wonder what I can and should do to function better. So… what have you done over the past few years that has helped you better manage your digital communications?

Mar 262013

I wrote this damn fine essay on why protecting your privacy doesn’t require dishonesty back in 2002 for an email list. I recently dug it up to include in the Philosophy in Action Newsletter, and I was so impressed with it that I thought I should blog it! So… here you are!

Privacy Lies

[Person X] wondered how to overcome the presumption of guilt that naturally emerges with “none of your business” responses to privacy-invading questions. For example, imagine that Lucy’s friend and co-worker asks her whether she is sleeping with the new boss. If Lucy has been willing to answer questions about her lovers in the past, then refusing to answer the question this time is in itself revealing. Replying “none of your business,” in such cases, will not protect privacy. In other words, there is no right against self-incrimination in everyday life, for refusal to answer is generally (and often reasonably) considered positive evidence of guilt.

In isolation, these sorts of examples certainly do give the impression that dishonesty is often necessary to protect privacy. But there is no need to choose between honesty and privacy if we take a long-term, full-context approach to these apparent dilemmas. First and foremost, the majority of these examples are compelling only because the individual has done little or nothing in the past to protect privacy — in which case, privacy is not likely the real value at stake.

Looking back at Lucy’s dilemma, she was perfectly willing to reveal information about her love life to this friend and co-worker in the past, so her problem is not in revealing private information in answering honestly. Rather, her problem is that an honest answer might reveal her wrongdoing of an inappropriate relationship with the boss. So for Lucy, like in so many of these alleged dilemmas, the goal a lie would not be the preservation of privacy but rather the concealment of wrongdoing. Lies to conceal wrongdoing have rather pernicious effects upon moral character, as I discussed in my paper False Excuses: Honesty, Wrongdoing, and Moral Growth.

Of course, people do face legitimate dilemmas about how to effectively protect privacy without lying. For example: Parents of multiples are often queried by total strangers as to how their children were conceived. Neighbors might ask how much you paid for your house or how much you make. Relatives might press an infertile couple about when they are doing to have children. Co-workers might ask what the boss said to you in your yearly evaluation meeting. A competitor in business might inquire as to the status of a client’s account. And so on. Such situations do not require dishonesty in order to protect privacy. Rather, they require a bit of forethought and some simple skills of etiquette.

First, we need to invest a bit of thought into what information we wish to keep private from whom. And then we need to consistently refuse to answer questions we consider to be invasive, whatever our answer would be. So if Lucy genuinely wanted to keep her love life private, she ought to have refused to answer any questions about the identity of her lovers, rather than trying only to weasel out the unpleasant question about the boss. In other words, we need to create and enforce our own zones of privacy. We need to take responsibility for our privacy preferences before we get stuck on the horns of a privacy-honesty dilemma.

Second, we need to cultivate the etiquette skills of deflecting inappropriate and invasive questions. After all, there are many more ways of refusing to answer a question than simply saying “None of your business.” We might just casually say “Oh, I don’t answer questions about that” or perhaps exclaim in shock “Oh dear! That’s private!” or jokingly reply “Now why would I tell you that?!?” In egregious cases of strangers asking personal questions, glaring and walking away is a good option.

In her excellent book The Right Thing to Say, Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners) discusses a wide variety of methods of deflecting inappropriate questions. These are skills of etiquette that no person should be without. Interestingly enough, we can quickly develop these skills of deflection into easy habits by fully committing to honesty, but we lose that opportunity if we allow ourselves to slide into lies when the going gets rough.

So we can protect our privacy without sacrificing our honesty. Additionally, by being honest, we avoid all the usual risks of lying: the slippery slope of lies, the distractions of creating and maintaining lies, and the risk of damaging trust in our relationships and reputation within the community. Those risks are substantial.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is the way in which openly refusing to answer privacy-invading questions serves an important positive function in our relationships. In our relationships, we communicate in a background way all the time through what we choose to reveal to and conceal from the other person. For example, a woman might be willing to tell co-workers that her dog died, but be unwilling to discuss the painful details or the emotional upheaval. By revealing some information and concealing other information, she is implicitly communicating that her relationships with her co-workers are moderately intimate.

So when someone asks a privacy-invading question, honestly refusing to answer implicitly communicates “Hey wait, the relationship isn’t that close!” Lying, of course, provides no such information. So speaking abstractly, honesty about private matters is an important means of indirect communication about the intimacy of a relationship. Speaking practically, if we don’t want people to ask privacy-invading questions, then we need to let them know what constitutes an invasion of privacy for us. Again, we do this by honestly refusing to answer invasive questions, not by lying. So we can dramatically reduce the frequency of these apparent privacy versus honesty dilemmas by honestly communicating and upholding our preferences for privacy.

In short, adopting a policy of lying to protect privacy can too easily turn into vicious circle, where a person doesn’t have a clear understanding of his preferences for privacy, doesn’t have the skills to effectively and benevolently deflect questions, and doesn’t communicate his preferences to privacy to others. That’s not a good situation for anyone to be in.

Speaking more personally, I wouldn’t jump down a person’s throat for lying to protect legitimate privacy. But I would recommend that the person reflect in a deep way upon the situation to see if honest alternatives were available. If so, then the next step is to train the brain to serve up those honesty alternatives before the dishonest ones, particularly when time is tight. I have yet to find a genuine, irresolvable privacy versus honesty dilemma.

Miss Manners Interview: Manners and Etiquette

 Posted by on 9 January 2013 at 10:00 am  Etiquette
Jan 092013

I really enjoyed this interview with Miss Manners on the importance of good manners:

Q: What is etiquette? And why is it so important?

A: It’s important because we can’t stand the way that other people treat us. Although we want the right to be able to behave in any way we want. Somehow a compromise is in order, if you want to live in communities. If you live on a mountaintop by yourself, it’s not necessary. I make a distinction between manners and etiquette — manners as the principles, which are eternal and universal, etiquette as the particular rules which are arbitrary and different in different times, different situations, different cultures.

Go read the whole thing.

Sep 272012

Some people are friendly and considerate as a matter of cultivated character. They’re consistently pleasant and accommodating toward others — absent some good reason for different behavior, such as knowing that the person is a major asshat. They’re that way to everyone, whatever their social position, including to cab drivers, help desk operators, grocery clerks, strangers on the elevator, receptionists, baristas, janitors, neighbors, and more.

Some people, however, are only pleasant and accommodating to people they deem important — usually, people higher up on their idea of the “food chain,” like their boss. Such people aren’t selectively friendly and considerate; they aren’t friendly and considerate at all. They’re just pretending to be so — and then, when they don’t see any benefit from that, the mask falls away, revealing their true character: self-absorbed, scornful, belligerent, and demanding.

Such people — the self-absorbed, scornful, belligerent, and demanding type — should be avoided whenever possible. They’re manipulative and dishonest. They see the world in terms of dog-eat-dog hierarchies of control and domination, not mutually beneficial trade. They trample on the people they see as beneath them, and they suck up to the people they see as above them. They’re always looking to get the better of others, and they’re happy to hurt people as they claw their way to the top. They’re practiced in their ways, and they always play their manipulative games better than honest traders can.

This recent article in the Wall Street JournalThe Receptionist Is Watching You — reminded me of all that.

Want that job? Better be nice to the receptionist.

Job seekers might not know it, but an interview often begins the moment they walk through the door. Candidates usually save their “best behavior” for the hiring manager and assume administrative assistants are automatons whose opinions don’t matter.

But assistants are not only close to the boss, they’re generally sharp observers who can instantly sense whether someone will fit in with company culture, says Karlena Rannals, president of the International Association of Administrative Professionals, which represents 21,000 members.

It’s just one way companies are filtering candidates in a tight labor market where more applicants are vying for fewer openings, experts say.


Administrative assistants aren’t the only ones watching. Sometimes crucial impressions are formed even earlier than the first meeting, if an applicant has been communicating with administrative staff to make logistical arrangements for, say, an in-person meeting or a videoconference.

“Smart recruiters ask for feedback from the travel agent, the driver from the car service that picked you up at the airport, and the admin that walked you around all day,” says Rusty Rueff, who once headed HR at PepsiCo and Electronic Arts and now is a board director at workplace-review site Glassdoor.com.

Remember, if you’re not friendly and considerate to the security guard, the receptionist, and the barista, then you’re not a friendly and considerate — and people will notice. And, if you see that kind of behavior, beware!

Jul 132012

From Great ‘Hello’ Mystery Is Solved:

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. But Thomas Alva Edison coined the greeting. The word “hello,” it appears, came straight from the fertile brain of the wizard of Menlo Park, N.J., who concocted the sonorous syllables to resolve one of the first crises of techno-etiquette: What do you say to start a telephone conversation?

Here’s the interesting part, for me:

Like the telephone, the punchy “hello” was a liberator and a social leveler. “The phone overnight cut right through the 19th-century etiquette that you don’t speak to anyone unless you’ve been introduced,” Mr. Koenigsberg said. And “hello” was the edge of the blade.

Thank goodness for that! I abhor any and all forms of artificial social hierarchy. A person that you don’t know as an individual should be treated with the same respect and consideration — whether rich or poor, young or old, male or female, of respectable family or not, and so on. A person is not entitled to deference just because he was born into wealth or title. A person’s preferences should not be dismissed just because she’s young. A person is not of dubious character just because he’s poor. Moreover, a person’s wrong behavior should not be excused or indulged because of his talents or accomplishments, even if considerable.

Now, unless you read a good chunk of 18th and 19th century literature, you might not be familiar with just how much social leveling has happened in the 20th century. The rules of introduction used to be extremely strict. For example, consider this passage from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, where the ridiculous mess of pomposity and idiocy known as Mr. Collins introduces himself to Mr. Darcy.

“I have found out,” said [Mr. Collins], “by a singular accident, that there is now in the room a near relation of my patroness. I happened to overhear the gentleman himself mentioning to the young lady who does the honours of the house the names of his cousin Miss de Bourgh, and of her mother Lady Catherine. How wonderfully these sort of things occur! Who would have thought of my meeting with, perhaps, a nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in this assembly! I am most thankful that the discovery is made in time for me to pay my respects to him, which I am now going to do, and trust he will excuse my not having done it before. My total ignorance of the connection must plead my apology.”

“You are not going to introduce yourself to Mr. Darcy!” [said Elizabeth Bennet.]

“Indeed I am. I shall entreat his pardon for not having done it earlier. I believe him to be Lady Catherine’s nephew. It will be in my power to assure him that her ladyship was quite well yesterday se’nnight.”

Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme, assuring him that Mr. Darcy would consider his addressing him without introduction as an impertinent freedom, rather than a compliment to his aunt; that it was not in the least necessary there should be any notice on either side; and that if it were, it must belong to Mr. Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin the acquaintance. Mr. Collins listened to her with the determined air of following his own inclination, and, when she ceased speaking, replied thus:

“My dear Miss Elizabeth, I have the highest opinion in the world in your excellent judgement in all matters within the scope of your understanding; but permit me to say, that there must be a wide difference between the established forms of ceremony amongst the laity, and those which regulate the clergy; for, give me leave to observe that I consider the clerical office as equal in point of dignity with the highest rank in the kingdom—provided that a proper humility of behaviour is at the same time maintained. You must therefore allow me to follow the dictates of my conscience on this occasion, which leads me to perform what I look on as a point of duty. Pardon me for neglecting to profit by your advice, which on every other subject shall be my constant guide, though in the case before us I consider myself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young lady like yourself.” And with a low bow he left her to attack Mr. Darcy, whose reception of his advances she eagerly watched, and whose astonishment at being so addressed was very evident. Her cousin prefaced his speech with a solemn bow and though she could not hear a word of it, she felt as if hearing it all, and saw in the motion of his lips the words “apology,” “Hunsford,” and “Lady Catherine de Bourgh.” It vexed her to see him expose himself to such a man. Mr. Darcy was eyeing him with unrestrained wonder, and when at last Mr. Collins allowed him time to speak, replied with an air of distant civility. Mr. Collins, however, was not discouraged from speaking again, and Mr. Darcy’s contempt seemed abundantly increasing with the length of his second speech, and at the end of it he only made him a slight bow, and moved another way. Mr. Collins then returned to Elizabeth.

“I have no reason, I assure you,” said he, “to be dissatisfied with my reception. Mr. Darcy seemed much pleased with the attention. He answered me with the utmost civility, and even paid me the compliment of saying that he was so well convinced of Lady Catherine’s discernment as to be certain she could never bestow a favour unworthily. It was really a very handsome thought. Upon the whole, I am much pleased with him.”

As much as I love Jane Austen, I’m so glad not to live in her world. If I did, I’d surely be some family’s troublesome and impertinent servant, taking liberties left and right!

I’m even glad that our culture has become less formal in the last 30 years, such that people are immediately on a first-name basis. Really, I just couldn’t imagine calling Paul “Dr. Hsieh,” as we see in Jane Austen novels. (Then again, my pet name for Paul is “Mr. Woo,” which is partly a joke on the conventions of Jane Austen’s time!)

In sum, thank you, dear telephone!

Oh, and one final thought: This seems to be a clear case in which a major cultural shift was instigated by technology, rather than by any intellectual or philosophical changes. Of course, the culture had to be ripe for the change — and America’s ethos of the self-made individual is far more compatible with an etiquette of social equality than with an etiquette of social hierarchy. Nonetheless, the technology made a huge difference — and the internet and social media is pushing us even further in that direction. (Yay!)

In essence, cultural change requires and involves philosophy, but that doesn’t mean that philosophy — let alone philosophy departments — will be the catalyst.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha