World-famous Russian classical writer Anton Chekhov, in a detailed letter to his alcoholic brother, took the time to list a handful of points related to the matter. He wrote about the ways he thought one should behave in order to appear cultured, polite, and generally well-mannered. Although Chekhov’s letter was written in the 1800s, it’s easy to see how applicable his ideas are, even over a century later.
“Respect the individual… [Be] always indulgent, gentle, polite and compliant.”
Chekhov begins by outlining a co-habitation example, where the author writes that a well-mannered person wouldn’t react too harshly when a small household object gets lost. Of course, this also applies to a variety of other contemporary situations. The fact that we all argue is a given, but by swallowing our pride during undesirable moments, we may not only leave a relatively pleasant impression of ourselves, but also avoid conflicts and unnecessary drama that may add to our already never-ending list of daily hassles. Chekhov displays his admiration for tolerance and forgiveness of nuances. This allows us to accept our differences and imperfections.
“Respect the property of others and therefore pay [your] debts.”
In reality, Chekhov believes that paying off one’s debts runs deeper than simply doing so because one has to. It can be argued that there’s a moral obligation of sorts to pay our debts sooner, rather than later – perhaps as a sign of respect for the other individual’s property.
“[Be] candid and fear lies like the plague.”
In his letter, the writer highlights the negative qualities of lying, even about seemingly insignificant matters. In Chekhov’s view, lies are synonymous with insults and are a serious breach of trust. By the same token, a well-mannered person may show respect by abstaining from revealing information in inappropriate circumstances. Thus, the spectrum runs from truth-twisting to over-divulging, where satisfactorily mannered individuals would practise disclosing the right amount of correct information at the right moments. Nobody likes a blabbermouth.
“Do not belittle [yourself] merely to arouse sympathy.”
All aboard the pity-train! Or not. It’s important not to mistake one’s ‘woe is the life of me’ exclamations for humility. Chekhov emphasises that a well-mannered individual doesn’t put himself down to receive sympathy and help. They don’t challenge heartstrings of strangers just to be baby-seated and pitied by them.
“[Do not be] preoccupied with vain things.”
Speaking of humility, the letter reads that one should not care too much about being acquainted with people high up in the ranks of society, or noticed by the multitude. It’s better practice to seek obscurity, and not to exaggerate one’s successes and talents over those of others. Let’s try talk less, and do more. Our efforts can speak for themselves.
At the risk of seeming a little too much like a list of rules, the above is but a demonstration of the eternal rewards of good manners. It wouldn’t kill us to remind ourselves of the impacts of our own behaviour. Therefore, it might do us a world of good if we were to take Chekhov’s letter to his brother as a timeless piece of advice for us all.