What is polite demeanor

Courtesy: A lubricant, please

Author Rainer Erlinger analyzes the topicality of politeness in a book. With this one could slide and dance smoothly through everyday life and the big city.

So many things. So many elbows. So many doors that can fall in your face - there is a lot moving through the city that you could bump into. People above all. They were at least that smart and installed a social operating system themselves - although unnoticed by many - to run everyday life as smoothly as possible: courtesy. The author Rainer Erlinger calls them the “lubricant” of society. Politeness is an attitude, he says. And if you carry it in front of you, you are also better able to slip through situations in which people sometimes collide rather than meet. Because the world is becoming denser. Friction points become surfaces. And with a polite demeanor, you glide on them better, more pleasantly and also more successfully, Erlinger shows in his book “Politeness. On the value of a worthless virtue ”, published by Fischer Verlag.

"On the ridge alone, of course, politeness is not as essential as when I am moving through the city in rush hour," says Erlinger. Politeness is most effective where it could catch. But it also serves as a spacer when things get too tight. “You can wear politeness like a protective shield. With extreme, cool politeness you can keep others at a distance. ”But before you could even draw the option of distance or slipping past, in the form of the joker politeness, many fail because of the basic requirement of noticing others: Ah yes, there is another one .

“The core of politeness is actually perception,” says Erlinger. For example, if you hold the door open for someone, it functions primarily as a gesture. “A gesture that says: 'I notice you.‘ That is part of respecting the other. ”But many want that to be observed. The flashing screens of the big city, the beeps and dumbbells of the cell phones, you yourself on Facebook and Instagram. The virtual space - which, however, could also be partly responsible for the fact that you not only lose eye contact, but also contact with your own polite demeanor, says Erlinger. Because of the sheer non-commitment and anonymity, one cultivates virtual friends, but hardly any manners. “Studies show that it is largely to blame that one does not perceive anyone opposite.” Erlinger has established that phenomena of the virtual slosh into real space. When, for example, Pegida demonstrations and similar marches, the practice of hate postings literally pinned on the flags. "I'm a little afraid that the hostility on the internet will rub off on real life."

At eye level

At the beginning of his book, Erlinger also deals with an etching by Paul Klee: "Two men, assuming each other in a higher position, greet each other", is the title. Obviously, it shows Emperor Franz Joseph I and Kaiser Wilhelm II. Each seems to want to hunch over the other. After all, both are naked, i.e. free of any evidence of rank and position. A bow to the role, office or position of the other person, however, has nothing to do with politeness. Even if the word is justified etymologically with "right behavior at court". But the emperor does not bow. But be careful, the basis for politeness can only happen at the same level. This is one of the reasons why Erlinger thinks it is "good and necessary" to also say please, even if someone is being served: "That signals to the other person, for example a waiter, that you see him as a person on the same level."

Politeness is a form of behavior. And this is how they can learn from children: "Children first learn the forms of politeness and only later fill them with content, with the moral claim of respect for the other." The educational tasks in general, Erlinger notes, have been in schools for a long time anyway and delegated to other institutions. Sometimes even to a city's transport company, the voice from the loudspeaker as a courtesy teacher: Please do not eat anything smelly, do not listen to music loudly and, please, let the elderly sit down. The latter: a prototypical case for courtesy, as Erlinger describes in his book. But not entirely unproblematic, because whoever stands up for someone has long since categorized the other. Aha, frail! However, it does not work in everyday life entirely without the quick typing: "You have to deal with far too many situations every day."

Dancing through everyday life

In the subway you not only meet people who are immediately classified as frail, but also a phenomenon that, according to Erlinger, is currently being discussed extensively in New York: “manspreading”. Mostly male passengers like to show testosterone-indicated territorial behavior in narrow underground seats and spread their legs wide apart. The transport companies in New York have to admonish on posters to please refrain from doing so. You get as close as your counterpart in the subway to other people with whom you have no love affair, usually only when dancing, one of the most elegant forms and ways to meet. The dance teacher and supervisor of the opera ball opening, Roman Svabek, already found that dancing is not only a good school for behavior and etiquette, but also for what Rainer Erlinger understands by politeness. You learn to deal with other people, to perceive them and to react to this perception with a certain behavior. So you get a feeling for the other person. And as with dance steps, you can glide through everyday life with courtesy. Especially when everything goes well: "Tactful behavior is one that does not let the other person feel that they are being treated politely."

Rainer Erlinger is a doctor, lawyer and publicist. He became known through his weekly column "Conscience Question" in the magazine of the "Süddeutsche Zeitung". His book "Courtesy. On the value of a worthless virtue ”has been published by Fischer Verlag