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Assistance Should Evoke Courtesy

Judith Martin United Features Sy

Dear Miss Manners: During a three-week visit from my husband’s disabled older brother, my husband did much for this person (as I did, too), with patience and forbearance, and never once did he hear a word of gratitude.

It is a sad and bitter situation when one so dependent upon the care of others would be so ignorant of good manners and the importance of simple words like “please” or “thank you.” Instead, it was “Fix my eggs” or “Cut my food” or “Get me water.”

This man was hardly civil or mannered before a dire accident (engendered somewhat by his dangerous lifestyle and companions) left him disabled in speech and mobility. It is difficult to believe that a person given a second chance in life could be so bitter and rude when largely dependent upon the assistance and solicitude of friends and relatives who did not desert this person when his hard-living friends abandoned him after his violent accident.

It seems that manners would be even more important at such a time when this individual needs help maintaining personal hygiene: shaving, showering, dressing and putting on sunscreen. Also, his food must be cut before eating, backrubs are requested, errands are fulfilled, and there is never a word of thanks.

Several individuals who have assisted this person during the past two years have confided that his lack of good manners and common expressions of gratitude are causing them to disengage themselves from his care.

Out of respect for my husband, I kept my comments to myself, even though my spouse states that his dearly departed mother raised her children to be polite and mannered.

Are my expectations unreasonable? How does one tactfully inform such a person that their loved ones and caretakers are deserving of respect and good manners? Is it ever too late for an individual to learn and exercise polite and more civilized behavior?

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners believes in the redemption of rude souls, or she wouldn’t be able to carry on. However, she recognizes that misfortune is not a dependable etiquette teacher.

Reasonably, it should be. As you point out, it is highly practical for a person in need of many personal services to make performing those services pleasant. People who are treated rudely tend to get fed up and disappear.

But reason does not always rule. Resentment of being in a dependent position kicks in, along with the bitter reflection that the situation is so unfair as to relieve one of any duties toward the more fortunate.

Never mind that there is no hierarchy of suffering making it rewarding to do thankless service for anyone worse off than oneself, no matter how objectionable. If there were, the same people who think this is due them would be glad to put their troubles aside to help those who have even greater troubles.

And never mind that the politeness required is the same as is dispensed routinely for services one could easily do for oneself. The idea is to express pleasantness toward others rather than to confess one’s own helplessness.

Miss Manners hardly knows whether to congratulate your brother-in-law for having escaped this damaging change. Apparently, he just came through his accident with his rudeness intact. Having been exposed to manners as a child, he must have made a decision not to use them as an adult and has seen no reason to alter that.

You might suggest to your husband that he react normally to his brother’s congenital rudeness. Having amply proven his loyalty, and being in a position to refute any claim of ignorance of what is required, he is entitled to ask his brother why he should be at the service of someone who treats him so badly.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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