A hard look at soft skills

I am at a conference; people are milling around the coffee service station, lines forming and unforming at an alarming rate, some brash young upcoming professionals elbowing out older, gentler stalwarts. People are huddled in important-looking clusters and others stand on the fringes, some interrupting and occasioning startled looks, others politely waiting their turn to join the charmed circles. Some introductions are made, others ignored. People speak loudly in voices meant for calling out, while others talk on cell phones in volumes guaranteed to carry to the next transmission tower.

editorial Where is this leading to, you wonder? I find myself asking why these people didn’t learn their manners! What is it about our processes of socialization – school, home, playground and office – that produces such large quantities of rudeness? Why is it that when we are supposed to have completed our “education”, we suddenly find that we lack attributes so necessary to dealing with people, with relationships, with public behaviours?

Rules about treating people with kindness, consideration and respect exist everywhere; they are doled out as platitudes in assembly and at dinner time in many homes. But they don’t have an impact, judging from the way we push and shove the moment we find ourselves in a queue or how we refuse to switch mobile phones off even in a movie theatre or conference hall. It’s not as if we do not know, but we are shielded by the sure knowledge that there are no consequences for rudeness or bad behaviour, unless it has criminal aspects! Reality shows on television, political activity, and the overall culture of competition in fact celebrates what was at one time considered bad manners (to use a euphemism).

Can we as educators, parents, (maybe even) role models do anything about it? Can we talk about the intangible but important consequences of bad behaviour and actually show in our classrooms and school spaces what these consequences can be?

Why not give it a try?

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