GENTLE READERS: Of what purpose or relevance is etiquette in a time of social distancing?
As etiquette is a social code of behavior, Miss Manners has always promised not to annoy you with rules when you are home alone. And now so many of us are.
Still, the importance of considerate behavior ought to be obvious for those who are not literally alone, but sequestered with others. The old argument for “just being able to be myself at home,” generally meaning indulging in doses of slovenliness and selfishness, always led to no good.
And even truly solitary confinement -- with the exception of being able to connect through the blessings of electronics -- benefits from following some of the basics of civilized life. Prisoners in the Civil War pleaded for spoons, so that they wouldn’t feel like animals eating with their hands. Anyone who has been bedridden knows that the simple routines of getting dressed and sitting at a table for meals have a stabilizing effect.
Obviously it is the heroic moral virtues that we most prize in times of crisis. But there are underlying principles that manners share with morality, and the small virtues that arise from concern for others are crucial in close quarters.
Miss Manners has long been plagued by the popular misconception of etiquette as pertaining only to “society” in the sense of the rich and frivolous, and the illusion that normal people behave naturally. There is nothing like social distancing to serve as a reminder that society means all of us, and that behaving like our better selves benefits everyone.