As someone instilled with the British habit of automatic apology, I have often wished to be freed from the tyranny of good manners.
The mildest kerfuffle tends to trigger in me an outburst of contrition, as uncontrollable as a sneezing fit.
I find myself apologising in a forced high voice to the oaf who blunders into me in the street (Sorry!).
Strangers are addressed with extravagant levels of courtesy: Excuse me, I’m so sorry to interrupt, I wonder if you could possibly tell me the way to?.?.?.
If hypocrisy is the English vice, then manners are its public face.
The polite patter of pleases and thank-yous with which we embroider our speech is a ritual show of courtesy, an unthinking way of advertising solicitude for the feelings of someone doing something for one.
The relentless gratitude that I display in such settings — thanking shop assistants as though they have saved my life with the Heimlich manoeuvre, not simply handed me a chip-and-pin reader — is a salve for a guilty conscience.
The same is true of the contrition.
There is much in British history for which to be sorry — especially from those of us who are its beneficiaries — such as the slave trade and colonising large swaths of the world.
For all the reasons to be patriotic — real ale, cricket, Shakespeare, Led Zeppelin — the debit side of the ledger carries some serious bad karma.
尽管大家有大把理由爱国——real ale啤酒、板球、莎士比亚、齐柏林飞船乐队(Led Zeppelin)——但账簿的借方带有紧急的坏业力(Karma)。
It is my belief that, with every sorry a Briton utters when he or she is bumped into, a larger sorrow goes unaddressed.
To paraphrase the bard, we doth apologise too much.
Or do we? I hope you, dear reader, will permit me to explain how my attitude towards manners has undergone a shift.
Having children is one reason.
Barking rudely at my poor progeny in public to say please and thank you — behaving like precisely the brusque monster I am supposedly warning them off becoming — has brought home to me the need to live up to the sentiments being phrased.
So did a recent encounter on the London Underground.
I waved an older woman to go on the stairs ahead of me with an unctuous gesture.
An onlooker thanked me so profusely, as though I were Sir Walter Raleigh flinging his cloak over the puddle for Elizabeth I to tread upon, that I was forced to interrogate the meaning of my trivial act.
结果一名旁观者一个劲地向我表达感激，就仿佛我是沃尔特.罗利爵士(Sir Walter Raleigh)，把我们的斗篷脱下来盖在水坑上让伊丽莎白一世踩过去，以至于我不能不反省自己这一琐碎行为的意义。
The woman I had waved ahead wore a hijab: she was evidently Muslim.
My very minor display of goodwill took place in a much larger context of ill will and intolerance, and had been noted as such.
The public realm is full of spite and bile these days.
Debate descends into shouting matches, with neither side prepared to concede an inch.
The opening up of forums for voices to be heard on social media and the internet has had the consequence of making everyone think they are cleverer than everyone else, an illogical state of affairs.
One’s own ego seems so incomparably more sensitive, more perceptive, wiser and more profound than other people’s, the philosopher Bertrand Russell noted.
Yet there must be very few of whom this is true, and it is not likely that oneself is one of those few.
There is nothing like viewing oneself statistically as a means both to good manners and to good morals.
Properly deployed, politeness is a kind of activism.
It insists that we should treat each other kindly, a word derived from kin.
Leonard Cohen’s death last week brought this home to me.
In concerts, he serenaded his audience on bended knee and told self-deprecating jokes.
Each one of the thousands observing him felt as though they were inpidually valued.
In him, good manners and good morals were as one.
I shall do my best to follow his example.
It is time to reclaim politeness from hypocrisy in order to wield it against rudeness.