I received a book about manners two years ago as a Christmas present from a distant relative. At first, I was slightly offended; I took it as a subtle implication that this relative was not particularly fond of my behavior and I had somehow stepped on traditions of which I was not aware.

The book, titled “50 Things Every Young Lady Should Know: What to Do, What to Say, and How to Behave,” is co-authored by two men and one woman. It made me cringe, and I immediately placed it out of sight on my bookshelf. I did not touch it again until a few months ago when I dared to flip through a few of the chapters while clearing out my room. Curiosity killed the cat as I started on “Chapter 1: Saying ‘Please,’” and I continued to read, wondering why I was so quick to dismiss basic manners simply because they were presented in a way with which I did not agree.

There is a negative connotation surrounding the idea of behavior manuals specifically for men and for women, especially among our generation. Aside from the binary gender division these books promote, the implication that we have to change our ways to accommodate traditions we see as somewhat archaic is typically labeled as sexist with no further thought. But we forget there is value in participating in certain mannerisms to communicate respect.

Formal etiquette is easy to learn, is only required in specific settings and is incredibly useful when facing situations in which one does not normally engage. Having a set behavior you know to be acceptable allows you to operate confidently with little worry of offending others. This should not be seen as “giving in” or forced conformity; it should be seen as a form of behavior that we can default to when we wish to convey our appreciation of others.

Cultures all around the world have set traditions in place that help define their way of life, and such framework is not to be frowned upon. Universal social interactive behavior that reflects common decency among people is the beginning of a society that knows how to function on an elementary level. We need this within our own culture. Discrimination still unjustly divides many places in the United States, and a set of manners we agree upon to show respect is one place to start the essential communication that moves us toward a more united country.

It will not be easy to define manners upon which we all agree, but millennials are key in designing the next set of manners within our society that express the social justice evolution we are experiencing right now. It is up to us to remove the oppressive behaviors that perpetuate gender roles and are unaccepting toward people outside of what is usually seen as the “traditional” lifestyle. The world is no longer in this state of mind, and our manners need to indicate that.

Additionally, with 90 percent of young adults on social media platforms, millennials are in a position to devise a new set of manners specifically for the virtual world. This is only one example of the many areas of our lives in which outdated manners never needed to cover, therefore it is up to millennials to update the current set of manners to correspond to the changes we are seeing.

We begin changing by not dismissing specific behaviors right away under the excuse that they make us uncomfortable. This does not mean we all need to go visit the nearest bookstore to buy the hottest manners book currently on the shelves and read the latest trends in etiquette. We can only learn when we are uncomfortable. Finding new ways to behave toward one another will inevitably step on some toes, but this cannot deter us from trying.

Many millennials will disregard manners as expectations unfairly placed upon them by society and outdated practices, but manners that go beyond “please” and “thank you” are not evil rituals set to defeat social progress or restrict our behavior. Society has undergone many changes, and our manners need to reflect that. Some of our old practices will no longer be needed or will be in need of an update. However, we cannot use this as an excuse to abandon all formalities.

Manners, and manner books, should not be seen as deliverers of misery. Their primary function is to communicate decency among friends, family, acquaintances and strangers. They give a sense of acceptance to all interactions between people, which is something many claim to strive for. Millennials are in the perfect position to lay the groundwork for our next set of manners that are crucial to a well-functioning society, so it is time to step up and take responsibility for our interactions (not just our actions).

Thank you for your time.

Alexis Megdanoff can be reached at amegdano@umich.edu.

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