The highest need of 21st century

Never before in our history has it been easier to treat people like crap then get away with it.

This is because we’ve evolved in very small groups and tribes, typically no more than 150 people. Everyone knew each other. Everyone held each other accountable.

If you disrespected the group or treated people unfairly, you would be quickly ostracized from your tribe and sent to live on your own (which was typically a death sentence).

According to Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck, this is why our social reputation is so important to us – and why we have a natural craving to be liked and respected by others.

Of course we still need these social ties to survive and flourish. But in today’s world, we interact with many more people, especially strangers, because it’s so much easier to communicate and travel.

This makes it easy to treat people like crap, because many people we cross paths with we probably won’t ever see again. And in short, this influences a lot of people to lose their good manners and respectability.

It’s easy to flip off the guy who cut us off on the highway. It’s easy to be rude to the waitress at that new restaurant. And it’s easy to just throw your garbage on the ground in a public park.


Because most of us know we probably won’t see these people again, so there are no consequences to being rude or disrespectful. When people can’t be held accountable for their actions, it’s easy to get away with doing bad stuff – that’s a sad but unfortunate fact of human nature.

Of course just because something is easy to get away with doesn’t mean it’s right. This is why learning “good manners” today may be more important than ever.

When we talk about good manners, we aren’t so focused on dinner etiquette or what fork to use when (though certainly that can play some role), but what’s more important is how we generally treat the people will interact with.

Having good manners means treating every stranger like a neighbor. As the old adage goes, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

In a similar vein, how do you treat people who you will likely never see again? The answer to this question ultimately tells you how much you need to work on your “good manners.”

This article will cover basic tips and advice to having good manners in the 21st century.

All of these suggestions are from Amy Alkon’s excellent book Good Manners for Nice People…, which gives great advice on how to treat people kindly, as well as how to stop others from treating you like crap.

Good Manners When Communicating

  • Give people a response, even if you don’t want to talk to them. – If someone says “Hi,” give a simple “Hi” back. A small exchange lets people know you acknowledge their existence.
  • “No” is better than false promises. – Be willing to turn people down if they ask for help, especially if you know it’s unrealistic for you. Most people would rather you be direct with them now than disappoint them later.
  • If you have to give someone negative feedback, do it privately. – Criticizing people in front of others adds unnecessary insult to injury. People will appreciate it if you can give feedback while still keeping their dignity and reputation intact.
  • Focus on saying positive things about people who aren’t present. – It’s easy to spread negative gossip about people, but you’ll be more likable if people don’t have to worry about the things you say behind their back.
  • Trying to pressure people just makes them do the opposite. – Always respect people’s choices and free will. Often when people feel they are being forced to do something, they will just resist doing it even more.

Good Manners and Technology

  • Behave online as you would in real life. – It’s easy to act like a jerk behind an anonymous username, but try to treat your “digital self” as your “real self.” If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, it’s probably not nice to say online.
  • Respect people’s privacy. – Don’t reveal information about people that they haven’t already publicly disclosed. This is especially true for any private pictures or videos that you may share with someone from a past or current relationship. It’s not cool to use the internet as a tool for revenge.
  • Don’t mass invite people to events on Facebook. – There’s no reason your friend in Islamabad is going to be able to attend your local Life Changing Session in Lahore. Be reasonable with your invites: send them to people who you think would actually be interested in going, or who are at least in the area. (This also applies for invites to apps – don’t annoy people just so you can get an extra life in Candy Crush).
  • Avoid looking at your phone every minute. – If you’re out with people – whether it’s a date, or a bar with friends, or a family dinner – you should be spending more time interacting with them than looking at your phone. Most of the time, that e-mail or phone call or tweet can wait a couple hours. You’re important, but probably not that important.
  • Be cautious of spontaneous phone calls – As Amy points out, most people under 40 would rather you contact them via text before calling them. Phone calls tend to be a lot more intrusive than texts or emails, as you need to respond to them right away. If you need to have a conversation with someone, it helps to text them first and make sure it’s a good time.