Recently I met one of my wife's co-workers. She asked if we really ran a Pit Bull sanctuary.
"Yes, ma'am," I said.
She staggered a little bit, and put her hand to her throat. Not because she thought a Pit Bull would leap out from under my jacket, though.
Because I said "ma'am". And I'm older than she is.
I guess it was striking, because not too many people do that these days. Why not?
Is it because we've taken "American Casual" to a degree where formal courtesy is really unnecessary? Are we assumed to be so immediately at home with one another that we can dispense with introductions, and give hugs?
Or is the reason darker - we don't extend courtesy because we secretly believe that other people don't really rate it? That it takes something from us to be polite? That somehow we're taking a subservient role?
I hope that's not the case, but, looking at our society as reflected in popular culture, I suspect it is. In comedies, most laughs come from sarcastic put-downs, and some characters are designed expressly as foils - they are set up to be 'hurt'.
Where's the physical comedy that made Lucile Ball a national treasure?
Investigative reporters corner their subjects, and administer an Inquisition of 'probing' and 'hard-boiled' questions. It doesn't matter if the subject's 'guilty' or not - they're Tried By Geraldo, found guilty, and sentenced to scorn.
If it was all a mistake, nothing is said in later correction, and reputations are still wrecked.
It's bad manners. And for myself, I'm not going to hold with that.
Yes, I'm a Neanderthal, and I want to bring back a more civilized past.
A Neanderthal who says sir and ma'am and please and thank you.
Time to come out of the cave.