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Oh, Behave!

Codes of conduct may change with the times, but etiquette is eternal.

Shortly after learning that my future husband was the greatgrandson of the etiquette maven Emily Post, I was invited to dinner with his family. I’ll admit, I was nervous. How do you act around one of the most proper families in America?

I shouldn’t have worried. Allen’s entire family was gracious, and I felt welcomed. And that, I eventually came to realize, is what etiquette is about. It’s not a list of dos and don’ts designed to trip us up. It’s a GPS that talks us through unfamiliar new territory.

Now I am director of The Emily Post Institute, an organization that provides guidance on civility. People often ask me: Are manners relevant in today’s fastpaced, complex, and crowded world?

Consider just a few societal shifts: technology-based communication, body-baring fashion trends, and open talk about religion and politics, long considered taboo. The potential for awkward moments—and yes, even rude ones—is amplified.

Many people say our polite society has breathed its last breath. I disagree. As society evolves, so must its manners. That evolution may be loud, clumsy, and painful, but the process is inevitable. It’s the best way new guidelines for appropriate behavior will develop.

Emily Post’s principles—honesty, respect, and consideration—never change, regardless of the political, social, or cultural landscape. These ethics are the foundation for the manners that lubricate society.

So, can you bend with the times? Do you invite your grandson’s pregnant girlfriend to dinner? Can you have a civil chat with someone who disputes your take on global warming? I hope your answer to each question is yes. Please share your thoughts with me. I look forward to a robust, polite discussion.

Got a tricky etiquette dilemma? Send your questions to Peggy Post.

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