Can somebody help me with summary?

Why Be Polite?
by Michael Korda
1 Almost all of us believe that we live in an age of uncouth manners and that things were better in some previous era. For example, the 18th century in England is known as a period of high refinement in social intercourse . We look back with nostalgia to the soft candlelight, the elaborate courtesies, the hand-kissing— unwilling to confront the brutal reality of a century in which duelling to the death was commonplace, and gentlemen were expected to drink themselves under the table.
2 Manners change. In our day, it is considered good manners to be clean; indeed, we spend billions of dollars on products designed to keep us “fresh.” In the 18th century, by contrast, European standards of cleanliness were shockingly low, and women’s extravagant coiffures were often infested with lice.
3 The changeability of manners makes the whole subject difficult to approach. For example, it was not considered bad manners in the 18th century for a man to wear
a hat indoors. He would take it off to greet a lady, but then he’d put it right back on. The reason for this is perfectly plain. In the first place, the hat had long served
as a visible mark of status. In the second place, you couldn’t draw a sword easily if you were holding a hat in your hand.
1 uncouth: rough 2 refinement in social intercourse: good manners 3 coiffures: hairstyles
Page 4
There is a lesson here. For the most part, manners are self-protective devices appropriate to the customs of a particular age. These customs invariably derive from some practical need. Thus, on meeting somebody, we commonly shake right hands—a formal custom of no significance now. But in an age when everybody carried weapons, it was a demonstration that one was prepared to converse without a weapon in one’s hand. What we think of as “good manners” was merely a way of saying, “I mean you no harm, if you can show me that your intentions are the same.”
Caution lies behind manners, wherever we look. In days gone by, a host sipped the wine before serving it, not to check that the wine was all right but to prove to his guest that it wasn’t poisoned. A wine steward used his silver server to demonstrate his host’s goodwill towards his guests. Silver was thought to neutralize poisons in wine.
Why do we let someone older or more important go through the door first? One theory is that in medieval times it was sensible for the strongest man to leave the castle first, since there was always a possibility he would meet armed opponents or the rebellious peasantry waving pitchforks and scythes. Gradually, a certain honour descended upon this position. It was assumed that the most important person was also the strongest, and even if he wasn’t he could hardly deny it.
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Manners are society’s way of oiling the machinery. If you don’t lubricate relationships, tempers rise and people fight unnecessary battles. Besides, it’s worthwhile having good manners, if only so that when you drop them for a moment, everyone knows you mean business.
People with good manners do better in most situations than those without. Most negotiations, for example, are impossible without good manners, which explains why diplomats are famed for their courtesy. The best lawyers, too, are usually people of exquisite politeness. Beware of the man who never raises his voice 10 and always treats you with courtesy—he is probably going for your jugular.
In the 19th century, most of the great gunfighters of the American West were notorious for their florid4 good manners, being all too aware that if they let things get out of hand, they would have to draw and shoot. Good manners helped these men survive, since even the best gunfighter could win only so many gunfights before his luck ran out. For the most part, they were not “big-talking men”; they were soft-spoken and courteous. It was said of “Wild Bill” Hickock that the moment he stopped smiling at you, you were dead.
Despite humankind’s reputation for violence, most people prefer to avoid confrontation, and avoiding confrontations is what manners are all about. Manners represent the triumph of civilization over barbarism. They are not a demonstration of weakness, but a sign of common sense—humankind’s way of saying, “Let’s not fight unless we have to.” There may be no higher wisdom than that—in diplomacy, in business, in love and marriage, or in the transactions of everyday life.
Asked May 01, 2010

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