February 8, 2010

Monday Manners 2/8/10

"As I was put into the boat, he cried and said to me, It's all right, little girl. You go. I will stay. As our boat shoved off he threw me a kiss, and that was the last I saw of him."
-Mrs. Daniel Warner Marvin (American)

Can being polite cost you your life and should you let it? Imagine you are a man on the Titanic and it's going down, of course.  They are filling up the lifeboats with the usual women and children first.  Do you patiently wait in the long line, realistically knowing that your turn will never come?  Or do you push your way to the front and hop in?  There was a study recently on this very question.

"The goal of our research is to find out how people behave under extreme duress, especially in situations of life or death," Frey said. "Do they become more selfish, or do they still follow moral norms. In the case of the Titanic it was the latter."

It appears that the more mannerly British were likely to perish, while the less civilized Americans saved their skins.

New research has suggested that a lot of the poor souls who drowned in the infamous 1912 Titanic sinking died because of good manners, while many Americans survived because they were pushy. 

I'm not sure what to think of this.  On the one hand, I'd like to think you should always do what is right.  On the other hand, you won't make the fish any more polite by going down with the ship.  Seems wrong that the rude genes live on, doesn't it?

B had another take on it.  He said being rude gets people killed.  A certain number of people were going to die anyway though, as they couldn't save everyone.  Had every person on that ship followed the rules of etiquette, would it have made much difference?  What happens when two people are so busy offering their place that they both lose?  It's hard for me to say as a woman.  I know B would wait his turn and I would be a widow.  What would you do?

Here is one more thing to consider.  This is a quote from Robert W. Daniel, a Philadelphia banker.

"I was far up on one of the top decks when I jumped. About me were others in the water. My bathrobe floated away, and it was icily cold. I struck out at once. I turned my head, and my first glance took in the people swarming on the TitanicĂ­s deck. Hundreds were standing there helpless to ward off approaching death. I saw Captain Smith on the bridge. My eyes seemingly clung to him. The deck from which I had leapt was immersed. The water had risen slowly, and was now to the floor of the bridge. Then it was to Captain Smith's waist. I saw him no more. He died a hero."

Now here is what Captain Smith reportedly said while the ship was sinking.

"Be British, boys, be British!"

Was it rude for Daniel to jump and mannerly for the Captain to stay on the ship?  Maybe the two don't compare because a captain shouldn't leave his ship while others are still stuck.  But I don't see Daniel's actions as rude either.

You can read more survivor stories here.  I have a hard time looking at these people and labeling them "rude".


  1. I'm not sure the Titanic is an example of manners as much as of civility. For any civilization to survive and thrive, the women and children must be protected. Men are generally better equipped physically for survival under dire circumstances than women and children - more likely to survive going into icy water – so to ensure the greatest number of survivors, men would be expected to take on a bit more risk. But generalizations aside, the bottom line for me on an individualist level is this: would I allow a man to shove his way to the front of the line while my children were left to die, or would I take him down and help ensure that ALL children were safe before the adults got a seat? And, would I ever be able to respect my husband if he took a seat knowing that a child would die in his place? Would I ever be able to respect myself for doing the same? In the end, all survivors have to live with themselves. Just my 2 cents... - Mo

  2. Another angle I hadn't really thought of. Thanks!

  3. Another angle I hadn't really thought of. Thanks!