Re: Manners and Silence

This posting in the Telegraph on our lack of silence raises several deep questions, including ones about manners, but doesn’t do so in a condescending way:

Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into The Sun and its night at the opera. Applauding after each aria may not be the done thing, but it is not as great a crime against music as applauding between the movements of a symphony, as happened last year at a Proms performance of Mahler’s Ninth, a meditation on life and death which can only be appreciated fully as a whole, as opposed to four parts broken up by applause.

But applause in church is a more worrying trend. They did it at the memorial service for Alastair Cooke at Westminster Abbey four years ago, too. And I suppose it was at the Abbey that the fashion started, with the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Whenever I think of that moment, when those watching Earl Spencer’s speech on screens in the park began applauding, and the applause carried like a wave into the Abbey, my toes curl upwards involuntarily. It is partly that I hated seeing the Queen humiliated in that way, partly that it seemed so, well, inappropriate.

The problem with postings of this sort is that they can turn into screeds of “what happened to the way things used to be,” romanticizing the past and completely ignoring the real reasons why we are in the current situation we’re in now. The opinion presented here goes right to the serious questions and avoids that trap:

  • What does it mean when people can’t keep silent at a funeral, even during a moment of silence (see the article for the precise situation when this happened)?
  • Is applause a way of holding power?
  • Is there a link between freedom of conscience and thinking for oneself that requires something that is more or less religious?
  • What does it mean that concert halls and churches might have to learn from movie theaters in terms of showing people how to be respectful? Do we educate in manners at all? What would an education in manners look like?
  • What does it mean that listening to music is increasingly a solitary experience? (on this note – what about dancing at a club vs. waltzing?)

One can answer the “what does it mean” questions by arguing that the questions are irrelevant. People are mannerful enough that no one is getting killed, plenty of people are nice to each other, and everything is going fine otherwise. But maybe the purpose of manners is something more than order for the bare minimum of security.


  1. I’m not so sure about the link between religion and freedom of conscience- I wonder whether there might be more of a link between mysticism and freedom of conscience- but even there I’m not sure. Could you expand on that a bit?

  2. Bravo. My Grandma Brown believed that Silence was golden and Children were to be seen and not heard. I agree with the Applause and such in the church. although the Bible does say to make a joyful noise…

  3. @ Gracchi – Yeah, I’m mainly bringing this up because it was in the article: I suppose politicians are suspicious of silence because it allows people to think for themselves. It has power. And nowhere is it more powerful than in a church. That is why religions talk of “inner silence”, and “a silent mind freed from the onslaught of thoughts”. Not an empty mind, note.

    My own thoughts on the topic are still developing. Still, at the least, I think it’s worth considering if we’re in an age where nearly everything is determined by public opinion, what would give us a reprieve from that?

  4. On manners: maybe the purpose of manners was not so much a minimum order to promote safety, but a way of showing respect. Not just respect to positions, but respect to everyone. I read some old book on manners, probably late 19th century thing, at one time and the reason given for etiquette and manners had to do with both showing respect to others and making people feel comfortable- if there is a prescribed way to act, such as at dinner, then guests won’t embarrass themselves or feel awkward. It is polite to not speak profanely “around a lady” because she might feel uncomfortable…

    We are lacking severely in respect. I couldn’t say what was the case before, but I’ve never had enough respect for people and I know I’m not the only one. I’ve been an irreverent brat my entire life. Always right, unteachable (Ashok, I’ve certainly told you this before)… and I know I’m not the only one. I think it’s pretty common. But people are polite enough, I guess, and maybe the whole thing really does have to do with

    Silence: nobody wants quiet. Everybody needs the tv or the radio in the background, must constantly be chattering about nothing. Whether this is somebody’s design to control the masses or an accidental outcome of our entertainment-driven society, I have no idea.

  5. As someone who has attended her share of funerals, I think this is just a respect issue. I can recall a friend smoking at my brother’s funeral service and it irked me. I thought, “Show some respect” but the death of another may not affect an attendee the same way as a mourner.

Leave a Reply to David Sullivan Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.