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My Conundrum: Psychology Today interviews Miss Manners

Psychology Today is not Not NOT!... a qualified and respected medical/scientific journal. It is a pay-to-publish magazine sold by newsstands and high-end supermarkets (such as Whole Foods) to the general public. It is often used by “researchers” to pad their résumé whilst avoiding peer review; perhaps most notably by disgraced psychologist Paul Cameron. Being able to cite publications of one’s work can add undeserved credibility when the audience is not sophisticated enough to realize that buying space in Psychology Today is roughly equivalent to tacking mimeographed “Lost Dog” notices on telephone poles.

On the other hand… I LOVE “Miss Manners” (AKA: Judith Martin). Her commonsense observations on how “we can all get along” are presented in a sharp-witted (some would say “stilted”) manner that even the creators of South Park can only hope to attain. More than just a “Miss Lonelyhearts” columnist, she leads by example; and in doing so, draws guidelines to a truly moral, ethical, compassionate, considerate, and civilized society that we can all enjoy to our mutual benefit.

And even if I don’t always meet her high standards… (who does?)… she’s always a real kick to read. ;)

So imagine my initial consternation when I happened upon an interview of a public persona I enjoy… by a publication I cannot take seriously. Yikes!

(Psychology Today, Mar/Apr 98, Psychology Today © Copyright 1991-2008)

But you know what?... it’s all good. As always, Miss Manners rises to the occasion… and Psychology Today provides a sterling example of why it is not a qualified scientific journal.

Okay… I think I can live with this. ;)

Finally… I can paraphrase a citation… even though I cannot cite it verbatim or even attribute it… something like this:

Manners are not a sign of weakness… they are an indication of enlightened self-interest…

You know… the Golden Rule… treat others as you would have them treat yourself. Nothing wrong with that… right?

I encourage interested parties to read the interview before proceeding to my comments below… I’m just going to provide a few highlights for the “sound-byte” crowd. Enjoy! ;)

Judith Martin: (excerpts)

Etiquette is about all of human social behavior. Behavior is regulated by law when etiquette breaks down or when the stakes are high--violations of life, limb, property, and so on. Barring that, etiquette is a little social contract we make that we well restrain some of our more provocative impulses in return for living more or less harmoniously in a community.

[Etiquette] doesn't cost anything. No federal funding, no legislation is involved.

Etiquette is taught in the beginning of life, or should be, by the parents saying, "Darling, now don't pull the dog's tail. How would you feel if the dog pulled your tail?" The kid says, "I don't have a tail, so what do I care?" But you keep making that point of how would you feel if. It's a difficult thing to learn.

That is a very interesting phenomenon because you don't really have any choice of forks any more. All those forks they're talking about were melted down for World War I. It's a totally imaginary problem.

They often use new terms for old rudenesses. Flaming is insulting people. Spamming is trying to do business while other people are having a social time.

If you want to go off by yourself and be a hermit, you can do whatever you want. But if you want interaction with other people, then by definition you have to buy into the social contract and restrain some of your behavior some of the time.

People think the Greeks are such well-controlled people because they have this slogan at Delphi, "Everything in moderation." My mother said, "If they were [so well-controlled] they wouldn't have to write it on the walls to remind themselves."


PT: We live in an era of technological revolution where change happens weekly When you encounter things like beepers and cell phones, what standards do you apply?

JM: This is one of my greatest amusements, making rules for these.

[Bone-dry facetiousness! I LOVE IT!] :)

If you can't take a telephone with a very long cord to the symphony, maybe you can't take the cell phone either.

You're getting the right message, which is that [manners are] tradition-based and [move on]. The law is tradition-based. Government is tradition-based. You don't reinvent it every week. You refer to tradition, but it grows and changes.

Such Pearls of Wisdom… Miss Martin is a gem.

I can smoke and swear, and spit and pee in the street with the best of them… but being civilized means making an effort… a worthwhile effort that is its own reward.

1 Comments On This Entry

Guest, on Nov 24 2008, 11:15 AM, said:

A.) Why are you comparing a popular magazine to a scientific journal? Apples and oranges.

B.) Researchers do no buy space in PT. Advertisers do.

C.) Researchers enjoy the public recognition of their work that journalistic coverage brings, but neither they nor their tenure committees consider magazine and newspaper articles a replacement for papers in peer-reviewed journals.

You are correct… and I apologize. I was thinking of Psychological Reports (not Psychology Today), which is the vehicle by which disgraced “researcher” Paul Cameron tries to buy back his lost credibility. Brain fart… my fault. Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.

So… ummm… how about that Miss Manners?!

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