Etiquette Arising: Combating the Coarsening of Culture

Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | Thursday, March 4, 2010

Etiquette Arising: Combating the Coarsening of Culture

March 4, 2010

Cord Ivanyi, a Latin teacher at a Phoenix high school, was tired seeing the boys in his class subject the girls to vulgar words and behavior. The behavior was disrespectful, and disrupting to his classes. So Ivanyi decided to give the boys an example in chivalry. When a girl got up to go to the restroom, Ivanyi stood as a sign of respect. When she came back to class, Ivanyi held the door for her.

As he told AOL News writer David Knowles, "She had this funny look on her face, and the other kids giggled a little." But it wasn't long before Ivanyi was teaching the boys to do things like pull out the girls' chairs when they sat down. Now, he says, "Ninety-eight percent of the boys stand now when a girl enters the room, and the girls love it."

This now-routine show of respect has led to a difference in the way the boys behave around the girls. Being taught to show respect for them leads them to feel more respectful toward them.

It doesn't please the feminists, of course. One recently told me that she'd kick me if I held a door open for her. But that's ok—they need to learn as well.

Ivanyi is not the only one who understands the link between etiquette, attitudes, and behavior. In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, journalist Meghan Cox Gurdon notes that while proms retain old traditions like corsages and chaperones, student behavior is often vulgar. Gurdon quotes etiquette expert Emily Post, who wrote in the 1920s that, at public dances, couples were expected to demonstrate modesty and decorum because they were in public.

And Mrs. Post had no illusions about how teenagers would behave if chaperones were absent: Young men would try to paw their dates, or worse, she wrote. Today, it's not unusual for girls to plan to lose their virginity on prom night.

Modern girls get no help from Peggy Post, a descendent of Emily Post. In her new book, Prom and Party Etiquette, Post says that when it comes to sex on prom night, she "made a conscience decision not to try to lecture teens or tell them what to do."

This is sheer insanity. Eve Grimaldi, dean of students at a girls' high school in Washington, D.C., understands that you cannot deal with moral issues without moral instruction. Moral neutrality is not neutral in a fallen world. Refusing to take a stand just allows kids to pander to their worst instincts.

This is why, on prom night, Grimaldi brings an armload of sweatshirts with her. Girls wearing immodest gowns are forced to put one on. Grimaldi also keeps a sharp eye on the way dancers behave. Good for her.

In an article in Christianity Today, I once quoted the great historian Arnold Toynbee. He contended that one clear sign of a civilization's decline is when the elites—people he describes as the "dominant minority"—begin mimicking the vulgarity and promiscuity exhibited by society's bottom-dwellers. The result: The entire culture is vulgarized.

Christians need to resist the slide into vulgarity by creating strong countercultural influences. We can start by elevating our own standards in speech and dress, if we need to.

And we should applaud teachers who are teaching good manners and decorous behavior to the young—manners and behavior that teach kids to view one another and treat one another with the respect they deserve.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.