Would anyone care to join Miss Manners in a daring enterprise? She is thinking of bringing the element of shock back into modern society.
No, she is not planning to shock people. It's been done. It is being done still, all the time, and with drastically diminishing results. Profanity, nudity, even cruelty can hardly raise a set of eyelashes into a surprised look these days, let alone raise the eyebrow of shock.
That unhappy state of affairs is what suggested to Miss Manners that there might be a need she could fill. With the entire population going crazy trying to think of new ways to shock jaded fellow citizens, there is no one left in the crucial job of being shocked.
Miss Manners' intent, in reviving shock, is not to spur the shockers on to greater efforts, in anticipation of the reward of seeing her lying on her chaise longue, wrist to forehead, moaning about the wickedness of the world. If she is to go to that much trouble -- lying down posturing when she has better things to do -- she wants a reward of her own.
And that will be to lower the shock threshold.
When Miss Manners was a slip of a girl, there were certain words she had never heard pronounced aloud, and wasn't sure she knew how to spell, because they always had dashes in the middle when they were printed. In fact, there were two or three levels of such words, from mildly shocking to traffic-stopping.
What a mighty arsenal they formed. If a middle-level one was spoken, people stopped dead and paid attention. If the strongest words were used -- well, as Miss Manners indicated, they weren't, at least not in polite society. But everyone was kept alert by the mere possibility that they could be.
Now that they have all entered the everyday vocabulary of nearly everyone, most especially those with aspirations to what remains of polite society, they have no value. There is nothing left for an emergency.
Miss Manners proposes that some of us volunteer to be shocked at what used to be called bad words. That will enable those who use them to feel pleasantly bad. We are going to concentrate our efforts on the entry level ("d -- n" and "h -- l") so as to enhance the value of the next level.
On the question of exposing the human body, Miss Manners supposes even the most dedicated would-be shockers recognize a natural limit. She doesn't suppose that we can go back to being shocked at the sight of a lady's ankles. But if we observed a general dress standard, rather than the idiosyncratic hodgepodge we now tolerate as "self-expression," there would again be a possibility of shocking people by violating it.
It is with mixed feelings that Miss Manners regards the disappearance of shock in regard to evil behavior. She cannot condemn the compassion that makes people respond to cruelty with the statement that the perpetrator is sick, rather than bad. But she wishes people would join her in being thoroughly outraged at any such acts and at the suffering of victims, before they calmly explain things away as merely symptoms of social or emotional illness.
And she urges that callous violations of social amenities be treated with the shock they deserve, rather than being tolerated as expressions of individualism.
Miss Manners is aware that she has been skirting the most interesting part. The shock champions of yore exercised their talents most on what she shall delicately call the courtship patterns of their fellow citizens. Some of the best expressions of shock were registered upon the merest suggestion that a bride and bridegroom had gotten to know each other rather well before the wedding. Occurrences thought to be even less common brought forth super efforts of shock.
No, Miss Manners doesn't want to get back into that line. It was much too difficult to sustain surprise at what we all knew to be ordinary human behavior.
Suppose we say instead that we will register shock when people try to tell us about their private behavior. That should save us enough wasted time to make possible those dramatic faints we promise to supply.
My hazel eyes turn a vivid, arresting shade of green when I wear my contact lenses, which is almost all the time. When people compliment me on "the greenest eyes since Vivien Leigh," I don't know what to say. It is not the same as receiving a compliment on a new dress or haircut. A "thank you" seems so dishonest.
Miss Manners finds your idea of a compliment peculiar. As far as she knows, a compliment is merely a passing pleasantry, not the Congressional Medal of Honor, of which you want to make sure you are worthy.
So please resist the temptation to argue back. Not only does this give a casual remark more importance than was intended, but it discourages nice people from saying nice things.
You don't need to grow or otherwise produce everything yourself in order to receive praise for it. Selecting the dress is, for example, enough. You didn't have to weave the material, design the pattern and stay up all night stitching it.
Saying "thank you" is neither honest nor dishonest; it is polite. And if you can manage to blush prettily at the same time, you need not confess that you got the blush from a compact.