My friend’s young son came home from school last week, bursting with information. It was obvious he was dying to tell us some really important news. “Sally’s mother is having a baby” he finally burst out. What great news, we thought, but “it’s a secret!” he continued.
Oh dear – telling secrets really isn’t done, I thought. So did his mother, who gently chastised her son explaining that what is told us in confidence really should be kept to ourselves.
“Why?” he asked. I left it to his mother to explain the intricacies of ethical communication!
To put this in context, I have been researching interpersonal communication, and I have been coming up against a lot of ‘rules’ – there seems to be an increasing tendency to highlight ‘shoulds’ and ‘ought tos’ which has been causing me unease.
And yet, really I can’t think why it should. As my episode with young James shows, there are rules and regulations that are invoked when we consider the ethics of communication in relationships.
Probably, my unease stems from the terminology – to me rules demand enforcers; just think of the ‘Rules of the Road’; obey them or suffer the consequences. There seems to be a whiff of ‘or else’ when we consider Rules.
Heaven knows I am quite familiar with a life filled with rules and regulations – even to becoming quite an expert on the Military ones.
However, I don’t think that kind of ‘or else’ syndrome works in close personal relationships – and yet …
I was drilled in what I should and shouldn’t do in company by a grandmother who was herself raised in Edwardian times. I was given detailed instruction on what was (and what wasn’t) considered ‘polite’. It was plainly not nice to be called ‘discourteous’ and there was an awful lot of things that were frowned upon, if not entirely forbidden.
I can still hear her voice in my head when I do something that would have failed her exacting standards “Courtesy costs nothing, and it helps to make others feel comfortable.”
It was, I was given to understand, important never to make others feel uncomfortable, either by your behaviour or your words. From such basic assumptions came the attitude that certain behaviours were unacceptable; while others were encouraged.
I was encouraged to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. I was discouraged from open criticism of others’ dress or performance. I was encouraged to listen politely, and not interrupt (especially my elders): I was discouraged from disagreeing with people I had just met.
I was taught that conversation required alternate voices, and I was never to monopolise it.
I was certainly drilled in the certainty that secrets were never, and I mean never to be repeated to anyone, for any reason at any time!
In fact, when I considered all this and returned to my book, I quickly realised that what they were advocating was precisely those courtesies that my grandmother instilled in me, all those years ago.
Courtesy was described by my Edwardian grandmother as those ‘unwritten requirements for preferred behaviours designed to maintain harmonious relationships.’ And in my book, I have just read that ‘Rules of Conversation are unwritten prescriptions that dictate preferred and proscribed behaviour in certain contexts.’
Which isn’t so very different really. Perhaps after all, it is in the terminology – and I have to say I prefer to be counselled to be Courteous than told to obey the Rules!!
Michele @ Trischel