Three (Orderly) Cheers for Protocol

There’s a lot to be said for formal manners and expectations of how you respond in a social situation. For one thing, everyone knows what the script is and doesn’t have to think so hard. For a second thing, those of us who are, ahem, not so adept at reading people have a basic idea of who we greet, how to introduce this person to that one, and what the proper answers to questions are. Protocol and manners are breathing space and wonderful supports for the socially-challenged.

I grew up reading old—1950s-60s—books of manners. They were wonderful. You set a table like this, and eat like that. Women sit here, men sit here. Guys do this when introduced to a young woman and that if it is an older woman, while ladies do this other thing. I had a script and a framework! My problems were solved!

OK, not in the 1980s, alas. I discovered all too quickly that the rest of my age cohort had not read the books. High School was even worse, but by then I’d decided that I had my ways of doing things and my manners, and if the rest of the world chose to act like little barbarians, it wasn’t my problem. Yes, I had a larger-than-deserved ego about certain things, and one was my personal code of conduct. I was going to act as if it were still the 1890s, not the 1990s, and the world could just lump it.

As Shadowdancer discussed over at AtH one day, there is a very good reason for protocols. When things are going to emotional chaos and events and personal feelings swamp a person or institution, having a set-in-stone list of “First, notify these people. Schedule the major event for four days unless there is a major outside conflict. Then Person A does this, Person B does this…” and so on takes pressure and decision making stress away. Grief, uncertainty, fear, they may still be nigh unto overwhelming, but that’s inside. On the outside, everyone knows what they have to do, who they have to communicate with, and what is expected by others. The Vice-president’s wife might be numb from shock and grief, but things are handled in ways that everyone around her knows. She has a set role and that’s all she has to do, at least until the official state rituals are completed and attention has shifted elsewhere.

Not every situation requires Official State Dinner for G-20 Heads of State levels of protocol. Thanks be! I lost my love of polishing that much silver when I was in my teens. But I find that knowing who to introduce to whom first, or which fork to begin with (outside in), and what is expected at various sorts of social functions helps me make a mental script in advance. Things might not go as I’d anticipated, since other people are involved, but I’ve got something to work from.

And ladies, always remember – the lower the neckline, the longer your gloves. Strapless gown means opera or full length, nothing shorter.

9 thoughts on “Three (Orderly) Cheers for Protocol

  1. A good point about how society handles situations; for better or worse, in the past everybody knew their niche and how to respond to other niches and standard situations.
    I don’t think people realize how much uncertainty there is in life now because that framework is missing. The change is good for a few people but bad for many – I wonder if this change is partly responsible for the increase in depression, drug use, and other self destructive behaviors.

    • It wouldn’t surprise me. Plus why more and more young people prefer on-line interactions where the roles are semi-pre-set.

    • Generalized anxiety disorder?

      Would believe it; I seem to remember the drive to get rid of manners was to try to get rid of the jerks…but the jerks are still around, and now there’s no rules to be perfect in following.

      • The decline in the a standardized set of manners/protocol is part and parcel of the decline in societal norms after decades of relentless attacks by much of the Left and some parts of the Right. The old norms are gone, but they haven’t been replaced to any meaningful extent. Both religious and civil norms of behavior have largely been banished. The governmental and societal mechanisms that once enforced norms have largely been rendered ineffective, sometimes deliberately. The result of this lack of norms, or any widespread enforcement mechanism for them, gives rise to anomie. I believe that a portion of the acts of violence we’ve been seeing in the news are caused by anomie.

        • Sad thing is, we already know that people try to fill a vacuum…and yet folks charge in with things like the law that lost at the Supreme Court the other day, where in practice it was to enforce a specific “norm” at the expense of a legally protected right.

  2. Rules, protocols, and customs for social interactions are analogous to rules for art, especially given that social interaction is itself an art. If you understand the why and how of rules, you know when it makes sense to break them. If you never learn them, then you’re not being fresh and creative, you’re just producing undisciplined chaos. The novelty wears off fast.

  3. I beg to disagree, ma’am. Young people prefer on-line interactions because there are no or few in-person consequences among the humans they must interact with. I work with a fair number of young people, as a HS science fair judge and mentor and as a mentor/advisor for college-age students. I’m amazed but no longer horrified that the manners division seems to be 20-25% who can sociallize or interact with adults or others, and 75-80% who have no clue or no inclination. I watch to see which of them them can last more than five minutes without reaching for a refresh on their MyShinyBox.

  4. “The lower the neckline, the longer the gloves.” I can’t tell you how really looooooonnnnngggggg gloves would get my attention. You really don’t want to know

Comments are closed.