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          Formality: dead and gone

          Gillian Seaman

          Issue date: 3/26/10 Section: Opinion
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          Being thwacked in the face with a suitcase without apology for the third time after flying to Detroit from Germany finally convinced me that politeness was dead. Dead as in Elvis dead, where even though there are still various sources attesting to the fact that he is still alive and well, it is quite clear that he, along with a general adherence to politeness in society, simply is never coming back.

          I am not sure exactly who or what killed politeness. The usual suspects (MTV, VH1, and Rush Limbaugh), with their deleterious effects upon society, fail to adequately explain why politeness has effectively disappeared. I do hail from a suburb with a severe case of "tight-ass-itis," and as such at has probably predisposed me to expect a certain, perhaps even unnecessary level of decorum in daily human interaction. Even still the death of politeness as we see it today should be treated as a serious issue.

          It is easy to forgive when a person forgets a simple "please" or "thank you." Even individuals whose blood is sapphire-blue commit such errors. What is increasingly unforgivable is the decreasing formality expected within society. English is already an impoverished language that lacks the formal tenses other languages possess (which I am fully prepared to defend as amazing). But it seems that this situation is exacerbated by a 'let's-all-be-friends attitude' that does not always make things easier.

          Eliminating the usage of formal titles like "professor," or "mister/miss" does appears to be a good idea. In doing so, it is believed that a welcoming atmosphere will foster better relations among individuals. But adding a title in front of a name does not necessarily make relationships colder or more difficult. The professor I am closest to has addressed me as Ms. Seaman since freshman year. If and when he does call me Gill, I may actually keel over from shock. More importantly, it is easier to do business when some degree of formality exists between people. Difficult topics are never easier to discuss. But it is much more difficult to ask Bob to change your grade than Professor Smith.

          I think it is also important to stress that our professors did not drudge for years through graduate school to be addressed by their first names. The simple fact that they have survived the nine circles of academic hell to get a position at Case Western Reserve University means that not only do they deserve a medal, but also the respect of being addressed with the appropriate title. So unless they specifically invite you to address them by their first name, don't. The same principal should apply to anyone who is old enough to be your parent, who is your boss, or who exhibits any sort of control over your life.

          Politeness may be dead. But I will attempt to continue its resurrection by addressing my professors as such, saying please and thank you, and apologizing every time I accidentally injure someone while trying to get off a plane.
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