Be mindful of good manners

PUBLISHED: 10:32 17 March 2006 | UPDATED: 21:46 28 May 2010

So much in life nowadays depends on perception, on messages sticking in the brain and influencing subsequent behaviour. Two incidents in the past few days fit neatly into that category - a workman taken to court for putting his muddy boots on a public ben

So much in life nowadays depends on perception, on messages sticking in the brain and influencing subsequent behaviour.Two incidents in the past few days fit neatly into that category - a workman taken to court for putting his muddy boots on a public bench and a man given a £50 on-the-spot fine for putting litter in a litter bin.Many would argue that the police officer was being over zealous when he booked the man for soiling the bench at Cambridge railway station. The man was later charged with "interfering with the comfort of other railway users by preventing them from using the bench".Over zealous? I think not. Assuming the man is convicted, he probably won't put his muddy boots on a public bench ever again.If authorities generally adopted that level of diligence in cases affecting 'the comfort of the public', just imagine the likely outcome.The perception that much of today's crass and unacceptable behaviour is likely to result in punishment would quickly result in improved manners, with a lot less litter and graffiti and far fewer unsightly and unhealthy blobs of chewing gum on our pavements.In the other incident a man leaving home in Hinckley for work met the postman in the drive, was handed his mail, which turned out to be junk mail. So he dropped it into a nearby litter bin.Two weeks later he received a letter from his local council saying he had committed an offence by putting domestic rubbish in a public bin.The initial perception here is that the council is off its head. But the bin may be in an area which generates a lot of litter, and the poor chap may have committed a technical offence.Nevertheless, most people will have sympathy for a man who put his litter where he thought it should go, and feel that the bizarre council reaction can only encourage people to have less respect for activities affecting 'the comfort of the public'.Perhaps George Bernard Shaw understood the dilemma when he wrote: "We don't bother much about dress and manners in England, because as a nation we don't dress well and we've no manners."If we all took to heart the lesson of the muddy boots at Cambridge railway station we might end up proving him wrong.

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