IF there is one thing that should never go out of fashion, it should be good manners.
A lot of the misconduct we see today, whether it is in public, private or cyberspace, happens due to lack of manners.
Good manners is the bedrock of every civilised society, and poor behaviour should never be a norm in any country that wishes to progress well in all arenas.
There are many terms that can be equated to “manners”, such as etiquette, comportment and courtesy. However similar all these words are, there are subtle differences in their meanings.
I began reflecting on the importance of good manners lately after reading the writings of Malaysia’s very own Professor Tan Sri Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, one of the finest contemporary Muslim scholars and philosophers of our time.
He describes the loss of adab (manners) as the sole crisis of the Muslim ummah (community). Imagine that, the loss of one simple virtue and there is utter chaos. What is adab?
In the book Religion and Law, Firmage et. al. explain that in the context of behaviour, adab refers to prescribed Islamic etiquette, such as refinement, good manners, morals, decorum, decency and humaneness.
Al-Attas, however, defines adab as the act of putting something in its rightful place, in conformity with the knowledge of where things should be placed.
When things are in their rightful places, its outcome is justice. When things are not in their rightful places, it is an injustice no matter how the situation may appear.
These days, when we discuss issues, such as corruption or abuse, the first thing that pops into my mind is how all these problems are rooted in the loss of adab.
When the wrong things take precedence over what is right, we create a perfect breeding ground for moral degradation and social disorder.
The kind of societal problems we see today are always a result of something that has not been properly put into place.
Having adab also means being civic-minded. Humans have, historically, often been distinguished from animals because they are civilised.
You can argue that good manners are one of the factors that make humans civilised.
In the words of Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah: “The basis of civilisation is adab.”
The other day, I was watching a YouTube video on Japanese manners and etiquette, followed by a video on environmental conservation in Japan.
I was highly impressed with how recyclable items are packed in such an orderly fashion from the moment they are placed in the bins outside a person’s house, to the truck that collects them, all the way until they are processed to become new materials at the recycling centre.
How many times have we seen the wrong materials in recycling bins around Kuala Lumpur?
People carelessly toss general waste in recycling bins, leaving no space for actual recyclables.
As literal as this example may be, it embodies what al-Attas meant by adab is putting things in their proper places.
The Japanese proved that when manners and etiquette are taken seriously, it creates balance and social order.
Like the gears in a clock, when everything is placed where it should be, it runs effortlessly.
I watched the latest Kingsman movie recently and anyone who has ever watched a Kingsman movie would be familiar with the iconic catchphrase uttered by character Harry Hart: “Manners maketh man.”
Simply put, it means that good manners are essential to humanity. The phrase may not resonate deeply to those who watched the movie purely for the outrageous stunts, but to me, it is especially relevant in this day and age where we have distorted views on what makes a person refined.
In a pep talk between Harry Hart and Eggsy, Hart explained: “Being a gentleman has nothing to do with the circumstances of one’s birth. Being a gentleman is something one learns.”
Coming from a background of wealth and status certainly does not guarantee refined behaviour; it is something that has to be learned either through one’s upbringing or formal education.
Having good manners beautifies not only a person’s speech, but their actions, too.
Interestingly enough, the phrase “manners maketh man” is also the motto of New College, Oxford, founded by William Wykeham, in 1379.
The saying can also be found among the many proverbs compiled in a Latin textbook entitled Vulgaria by William Horman, a headmaster at Eton College during Tudor times.
To this day, both New College, Oxford, and Eton College carry the reputation of being elite academic institutions in England, proving that good manners is a crucial component in high quality education.
Having good manners is a result of cultivating the right virtues; it has to be practised and reinforced long enough until it becomes second nature.
It reminds me of my primary school’s motto: “Simple in virtue, Steadfast in duty” — anyone who attended a convent school would recognise those first three words.
Every religion or culture revolve around a set of virtues — a virtue is a quality that is considered morally praiseworthy.
Although some cultures or religions place more emphasis on certain virtues over others, there are still plenty of virtues that are universal, such as respect, honesty and humility.
When one lives one’s life according to a set of virtues, good manners will manifest naturally and we need not hide behind superficial things in order to seem as if we are refined.
Raja Sarina is a freelance writer, a blogger at www.dearsarina.com and is currently studying Arabic. She is a millennial trying to make a difference, starting with herself.