I recently delivered a 15,000-word manuscript on the topic of diversity and inclusion as used in business. I used approximately 50 resource documents in researching the topic so that the author could speak with authority on the topic. (Since this was a ghostwriting project, I’m not recorded as the author of this short book.) Anyway, I had a couple of revelations while researching and writing on diversity and inclusion:

  • Research on the topic focuses on life stages, generation, socioeconomic background, gender, race, creed, and other quantifiable traits, but not basic personality characteristics.
  • Successful and genuine diversity and inclusion programs basically boil down to good manners and/or the Golden Rule.

Life stages affect personality which affect where any of us is at any given life stage. Generalizations such as “Millennials are all immature, entitled brats” don’t take into consideration the very real traits that distinguish the individuals born within that 20-year span. In short, such generalizations are stereotypes, which can be useful as generalizations, because we all know individuals who exemplify the stereotypes describing them.

Even so, diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs apparently want to cater only to quantifiable characteristics. I came across a meme on managing extroverts and introverts. That’s a pretty distinct difference in basic personality, yet nothing in the documents I read addressed even that obvious difference between people. (I’m a confirmed introvert, as if you hadn’t guessed.)

A few of the documents actually did address the Golden Rule: treat people as you wish to be treated. The Golden Rule pretty much boils down to good manners. Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, “A gentleman never insults anyone unintentionally.” And that’s what good manners means: the automatic delivery of respect and dignity to other unless there is good cause to give offense.

Since the late 20th century with its focus on high self-esteem to today’s snowflakes who need trigger warnings and cry rooms if something should offend their delicate sensibilities, American society has polarized into two factions: the overly sensitive and the bluntly offensive. My husband likes to say that no one has any right to not be offended. He’s correct. However, just as one has no right to proceed through life without taking offense, one has a social obligation to avoid giving offense. And that would be called… you guess it… good manners.

Good manners goes beyond the “please” and “thank you” that parents painstakingly attempt to teach their young children. It also involves etiquette, social discernment, and an ability to know when to keep one’s mouth shut. It means being sensitive to another’s needs and accommodating those needs. Needs, not wants. It could be as simple as retrieving something from the top shelf for a petite woman or bringing a glass of cold water to the man sweating underneath your engine as he tries to fix what broke. It involves being observant.

In the 1980s during my late teens and early twenties, I heard a lot of discussion from my classmates about whether traditional good manners pertaining to a gentleman’s treatment of a lady were offensive. While I can open a door by myself, it’s nice to have someone take three seconds to open the door and hold it for me. Should I be the first to arrive at the door, I’ll do the same and hold the door open for the person behind me. It’s called courtesy. Good manners avoids giving offense. Courtesy shows care.

Neither does the whole concept of civility and courtesy demand an absence of criticism. It’s possible to deliver a bad review without insult. It’s possible to express dissatisfaction without brutality or crude language. The internet’s disassociation from the people with whom we interact allows rudeness and brutality to proliferate. It caters to those who make the claim of brutal honesty, the same people who enjoy the brutality more than the honesty.

Personally, I think D&I programs wouldn’t be necessary–which would put quite a few D&I officers out of their jobs–if people simply observed the gentle customs of good manners, courtesy, and civility. The dictates of good manners and courtesy don’t mean an end to competitiveness or a return to a sociopolitical system that considers women chattel. It simply calls for the starting assumption that any human being is deserving of respect, dignity, and care and then acting in accordance with that assumption.

What a concept.