Jean de La Bruyère (a 17th century French writer) is reported to have said, “Politeness makes one appear outwardly as they should be within.” (Source: Brainy Quote). One can only wonder how family members in his agricultural society would have treated one another, other families and the lord of the feudal manor. What might he make of how much esteem, deference, respect or authority that today’s family members who are in home-office lockdown might use in relating to one another?
Etiquette In A Time Of COVID-19
We fail morally when we are rude. But it is utterly superficial and one-sided to reduce the sum entirety of right behaviour to being polite. There are also other virtues, other good habits, of a harder sort that we as individuals and families need in order to live and do well in this world.
The current COVID-19 lockdown is stimulating a serious set of reflections on various fronts. Especially on the home front. Until now, many of us have had a strong sense of separation between work and home, intimates and colleagues, with the exception of a sizeable and growing minority of workers who’ve been teleworking for some time before the current crisis. Now it’s different.
Suddenly we have to be firm in setting boundaries with people whom we love—or at least are sharing our living space with. We may have to apply rules of etiquette in ways that make us feel uncomfortable. For example, it might be new to us to feel obliged to spell out to a partner or child when we can be approached, when we can eat either together or on our own, and why we are suddenly distant under the same roof.
Drawing a line between the urgent and the not so urgent can be tricky and uncomfortable. Because this is so new and complex for us, it might be useful to say a bit about why we might forgive both ourselves and others the odd breach of etiquette, even while valuing our proper manners in a stressful and different work situation.
The Cactus And The Daisy
Given the choice between the following two flawed people, whom would you prefer as a colleague and neighbour? The first person (‘The Human Cactus’) doesn’t always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ at the socially prescribed moments, is sometimes late for appointments without a good reason, and can be undeniably cocky at times. However, the Human Cactus stands up for you when you are treated very unfairly at work, and even risks life and limb in order to pull you out of a burning building not once, but twice. He’s like the Hans Solo character in the original Star Wars film—decidedly rough around the edges, but he will come through, in the end.
By contrast, the second person (‘The Human Daisy’) is like pleasant clockwork under normal circumstances. The Human Daisy is always courteous to a fault, with a rosy attitude, invariably punctual, and never comes across as cocky in a debate. If anything, the Human Daisy often seems somewhat self-effacing. The Human Daisy also stands by passively when you are abused at work, even though this individual really could have done something. Then, when a fire occurs, the Human Daisy, who is also your neighbour, doesn’t even bother to take a few minutes to call the fire department, claiming that it isn’t their problem.
|The Human Daisy||The Human Cactus|
|Politeness or manners||High||Low|
|Strength of character||Low||High|
In the end, I agree that the Human Cactus has some work to do on manners, and even though it would be uncomfortable to do so, it might even at some point be advisable to take up the topic. The Human Cactus can be genuinely disagreeable, and there is much to be said about being generally agreeable either within a family unit or in a society consisting of many people who have to surmount various differences in order to get along. In other words, they really should be polite.
However, I would prefer working and living next to the rough-around-the-edges Human Cactus who clearly has a high degree of courage and moral integrity to the lovely Human Daisy who is pleasant but who has neither of those two important virtues.
Moral And Ethical Dimensions
In the end, I suspect that we’ve all felt like many of those in our environments are like the Human Daisy and we’ve likely run across a much smaller number of people like the Human Cactus.
Which of these two people or personality types would you prefer to rely upon to do the right thing? Who would you trust to ultimately have your health and safety as well as best interests at heart? The Human Daisy is like a computer that can handle simple tasks with no serious challenges, but which fails badly when something important has to be done, like printing a key document or conducting a Zoom video conference. The Human Cactus, by contrast, is like a computer that sometimes makes annoying sounds and doesn’t always start up quickly, but which can print and Zoom with the best of them and beyond. Best to have a third option that is perfect, but that isn’t always possible.
Human Cacti need to learn the gentle art of etiquette, of how to make a world which is potentially very disagreeable just a bit more pleasant. They can improve the agreeableness of the world with a bit of work. Human Daisies, by contrast, must learn the values of courage and principled determination. They must learn to face the dark side of things and to tame it. One can only hope that a key takeaway from the surreal situation in which we find ourselves will include mutual learning, especially between family members and housemates, as well as between now online friends and business associates. At least something good would then come out of it all.
If called upon to generalize, would you see yourself as more of a Cactus or a Daisy personality? What about your partner or spouse, if you have one? And if you have children, are they old enough to be assessed as to whether they lean toward behaviour that is more one type rather than the other?
Introverts And Extroverts In The Current Crisis
We are likely to learn something about introvert and extrovert personality types in semi-isolation from the current COVID-19 crisis. The terms are rooted in Jungian psychology. Jung’s key criteria for distinguishing them related to whether one recharged one’s sense of vitality by being with others (extroversion), or by being alone (introversion). Being in lockdown has reminded us of many things, including the way in which we connect—or do not connect–with others.
Extroverts may find it challenging not to be able to frequent their favourite social recharging spots such as bars, restaurants and pubs. They may discover, much to their chagrin, that social media, videoconferencing, and other internet contact aren’t enough to keep them going, socially.
Introverts, by contrast, may well be better adapted for the isolation of lockdown (think of Sam Rockwell’s performance as an isolated astronaut in the recent film Moon), but may also feel ill at ease with heavy internet use as a substitute for the sort of one-to-one contact that they tend to favour. Either way, our personality types are likely to come into play in the current crisis. The amplification of our emotional selves is likely to underscore our degree of introversion or extroversion, to point to just one of several aspects of the human personality.
In the end, we should consider etiquette as an important part of being ethical, but by no means the whole of that admirable state. With reference to home offices in lock down, the unpleasant stresses and strains of being forced to adapt to what is for many of us a new work and domestic situation that is nothing short of surreal can lead to breaches of etiquette that may or may not be part of a deeper ethical problem. Either way, we should cultivate both good manners and a disposition to be reliable when others really have to count on us. Just like an ideal computer that operates smoothly for the regular stuff and can even be generally counted upon to come through when the going gets tough.
Gottsman, Diane. “How to Efficiently Work From Home: Etiquette Do’s and Don’ts.” HuffPost, 11 May, 2015.
Hemmadi, Murad. “70% of Millennial Workers Would Rather Telecommute than Come to the Office. Gen-Y Employees Say Telecommuting Increases Job Satisfaction.” Canadian Business Week, 24 June, 2014.
Reaney, Patricia. “About 20 Percent Of Global Workers Telecommute: Poll.”
Reuters, in HuffPost, 25 March, 2012.