Our culture seems to be rejecting the idea of proper etiquette these days. You can read plenty of wedding-related forums where brides talk about throwing away tradition and coming up with their own ideas for the ceremony. When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we had differing views on how important it was to focus on such efforts at what was considered appropriate decorum. I wanted to make sure we followed every protocol. He was worried about our guests being made to feel uncomfortable by obscure, high expectations with which they may not be familiar. Meanwhile, I continued to frequent wedding advice websites in order be certain invitations were addressed properly and that we were aware of the correct timeline for sending thank you notes. I wanted to be sure the proper individuals were asked to speak at the rehearsal dinner and reception. He did not understand my concern to follow a prescribed way of doing things because he felt we should do what we wanted.
I began to question why I was so concerned with following the rules of etiquette. Did it matter if I addressed an enveloped a certain way? Did it matter where people sat for dinner? Yes. I believe it does all matter in some sense, but not in the manner I originally thought.
At first, I was following proper etiquette because I did not want to feel foolish on my wedding day. I didn’t want anyone to think poorly of me for having the wrong order of events or for leaving out a speaker at the reception. And what would they think if we failed to list the wedding party correctly on our programs?! After much deliberation, I realized that my reasoning was flawed. I saw that I should not be so concerned with what other people thought of me; I should just enjoy my wedding. I started to think of ways to loosen the tight regulations I had been striving to adhere to. Maybe I could choose my own way of addressing names on my invitations. I could choose whether I would list the whole family or just the parents. I wouldn’t worry who was asked to perform certain tasks at the reception or how items were listed on the programs.
Then, I realized that veering from these rules of civility would actually have more of an effect on my guests than on me. For instance, the family may be confused as to whether children were welcome if I did not list the names of each child somewhere on the invitation. Also, close family and friends may have been disappointed if they were not given the opportunity to participate in some of the wedding traditions. And if our thank you notes were not sent in a timely manner, the people we love most may begin to wonder if we appreciated the time and money spent on their gifts to us. Proper etiquette was necessary, to some degree, to make our guests more feel comfortable and appreciated. They needed to know they were welcome, and they needed clear logistics for the events of the day.
Later, I started thinking about manners in general. Our culture rebels against the idea of following pretentious decorum. It is considered a means for people who know and follow the rules to judge those who don’t, and in some respects our culture is right. What was once meant to make those around us feel more at ease has become a reason to point a finger at someone who isn’t following the rules or, even worse, someone who doesn’t know the rules. We fine tune the expectations and lurk on the sidelines to catch someone wearing an inappropriate outfit or holding their fork incorrectly. The purpose of proper manners has become so skewed that the idea of using proper etiquette is being rejected. Matthew 7:3 asks, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? “ If we notice that someone is not acting in a specific manner, we are losing the purpose of using etiquette if we judge them. It is no wonder that so many people are losing interest in learning such social protocols because they have observed so many people sneering at others for not having the proper knowledge of them.
However, instead of using social requirements as a tool to measure others against ourselves, we still can use the lessons from proper etiquette to help others feel more at ease and welcomed. Matthew 7:12 gives us the golden rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Rather than reject the idea of concerning ourselves with proper deportment, we can take the purpose behind the social protocols as ways to be considerate of those around us. We don’t need to compare ourselves to others and how they succeed or fail in knowing obscure rules. The rule itself is not what matters, but it is the consideration for the other person that is important. That gives us the freedom to use proper decorum and civility without worrying over missing some minor detail, and the other person will not have to worry that they are being judged if they don’t know the prescribed response.
For our wedding, we decided to follow much of what etiquette guides suggested, but we also made an effort to create an environment where our guests did not feel pressure to act in an uncomfortably formal manner. My original desire for proper decorum and my husband’s concerns about our guests enjoyment of the evening came together to create an pleasant and entertaining atmosphere, but we changed our motives to our the entertainment of our guests rather than the appearance of having it all together.