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The Death Of Decorum In Our Time

Updated on September 15, 2009

Decorum, now that is a word that isn't used much anymore, but is perhaps a word that should be dusted off and brought back into mainstream language. It seems, at least to me, that a little decorum would go a long way to righting some of the social wrongs that are going on around the world, in politics, in entertainment, in sports, and quite frankly in most daily interpersonal interactions.

According to the Free Online Dictionary, decorum refers to the "appropriateness of behavior or conduct" or in the plural sense the "conventions or requirements of polite behavior". Well, that’s great, but what specifically does decorum refer to?

What Decorum Is Not

Let's take a look what decorum is NOT first. It always seems easier to define things by what they shouldn't look like, rather than what they should. Some very recent examples of what ISN'T considered under the definition of decorum include:

  • Calling out "You lie" to the President of the United States while he is addressing the House of Representatives
  • Interrupting an acceptance speech to let everyone know that you think someone else should have won
  • Threatening to shove a tennis ball down a line judges throat when you don't agree with her call

It really makes no difference who said these things; this isn't about politics, popularity or even who is right or wrong in their opinion. It is rather about the civility and respect for the boundaries of polite behavior that is, shall we say, slowly and sadly disappearing from society.

These are glaring and very public examples of how an individual in a high profile position is unable to control his or her actions when it comes to "the conventions or requirements of polite behavior". On top of that, notice which articles are getting all the attention in the media, on the internet and in general conversation.

Please understand that there is no need for people to surrender their right to speak publicly. There is very much the need for people to voice their opinions for and against any given issue. It is, however, important to follow conventional guidelines with regards to communication in order to be heard, but more importantly to listen to the other person. Communication is not just talking, and it isn't accepting what the other person says either. It is a give and take sharing of ideas as well as clarification of the information that provides a good conversation.

Down To Basics

It's not just the public figures that have a problem as decorum doesn't exist in day to day life much anymore either. People don't follow decorum or customs, everything is up to what the individual thinks, believes or "feels" is right for them. People show up in court, in church and in business meetings in clothing that I wouldn't muck out my barn in let alone attend these types of situations. Their behavior isn't much better than you would expect to see at a night club, let alone a place of business, worship or public gathering.

There is no doubt that lack of decorum started long before the events mentioned above; it has been building over generations. However, there are some things that people, just regular people like us, can do to get this back on track.

We All Have Work To Do

The first starts with teaching our children about what the "appropriate" and respectful way is to interact with others. That includes how children talk to their parents, grandparents and family members and friends. I see nothing wrong with children respecting a more senior person by addressing them as "Sir" or "Ma'am", or even as Mr. or Mrs. until they are told, by that person, to call them by their first name. Now that isn't everything, just one small example of how simple this may be to get back on track. Adults also have to practice what they preach and speak with civility about others, even if they have a different opinion, political affiliation or are different in some other aspect.

But above all that, parents and those in public roles have to model the right way to do things. It may not be the coolest, the most controversial or even the most attention getting, but it is the most civil and respectful way. Let's face it, when was the last time that any news story focused on how civil someone was or how they followed the rules of decorum? Shouting, yelling, name calling and even sensationalizing and twisting everything has become the more popular option, after all that is what it takes to get recognition and a video on YouTube.

For everyone's sake, decorum needs to come back into the world. Maybe not in the exact same old, traditional ways but certainly not in the current "let it all fly" way that seems to be the trend. Perhaps, with just a little effort, decorum can be resuscitated and civility and politeness to others restored, making this a more pleasant world in which to work, live and interact with others.


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    • Mardi profile imageAUTHOR

      Mardi Winder-Adams 

      8 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Thank you for your comment 2uesday. It is the same here, swearing is just as common as proper English. I also agree with you about the rude ways people are addressed in businesses, it is not at all like it used to be when I worked in a store. It was always "Sir, Ma'am or Can I be of help?", not the you guys or what do you want!

      And there is an even lengthier response to your comment!

    • 2uesday profile image


      8 years ago

      We have a similar situation here, inapproriate behaviour seems to be flourishing. A small example - I do not want to be addressed as 'You guys' when I am in a shop or resturant. Swearing now frequently happens within ear-shot of small children. T.V shows inapproriate items at times when young children might be watching.I do wonder where it will take us in the future.

      Thank you for an interesting article - sorry it triggered a lengthy response.

    • Mardi profile imageAUTHOR

      Mardi Winder-Adams 

      9 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Thanks wrenfrost56. I appreciate your time in reading and commenting!

    • wrenfrost56 profile image


      9 years ago from U.K.

      Great hub Mardi, I could not agree with you more and very much looking forward to reading more of your work.

    • Mardi profile imageAUTHOR

      Mardi Winder-Adams 

      9 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Thanks for commenting Dolores. I am not sure it is just Americans, although the examples I used were from the American media. It does seem to be worldwide, at least through the hubs and contact I have with friends in other countries.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      9 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Mardi - you are so right. We, as Americans, seem to have abandoned civility in a big way. Maybe as it just gets worse and worse, people will wake up and take a good long look at how this kind of behavior is going too far.

    • Mardi profile imageAUTHOR

      Mardi Winder-Adams 

      9 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Thanks for the kind words James. In the mediation/conflict resolution field I am seeing more and more lack of decorum and just hope somehow it can come back.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Great subject! Decorum. You are so right. I love the word and what it stands for. It does need a comeback. I enjoyed your finely tuned HUB. Thanks for writing it.

    • Mardi profile imageAUTHOR

      Mardi Winder-Adams 

      9 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Many thanks Peggy, sometimes I just wonder what is going on today and I have to vent a bit!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Amen to every word written here Mardi. Thumbs up!!!


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