How are your manners? Do you wait in a queue or push to the front? Eat with your mouth open or closed? Do you help the elderly get on and off busy trains?
No matter how polite we consider ourselves, occasionally we simply forget our manners. Stress and scarcity press our self-preservation button, making us behave in a much more animalistic way.
And we’re right to call it animalistic. Having worked with sheep for more years than I care to admit, it’s clear that self-preservation and self-centredness are de-rigueur for sheep. Pushing, shoving and trying to get to the front of the food queue are all in a day’s work when you have a woolly coat. And you should see their table-manners!
So are we the same as animals?
I believe not, for one good reason; we help each other out. As humans, we care for and protect those who are weaker than us and empathise with how others may be feeling. I have never seen these behaviours in a sheep.
For example, consider a ewe who has fallen and rolled onto her back. She can’t get up on her own – she is unable right herself. If she doesn’t get help, she will die.
The other sheep don’t help. They don’t even offer sympathy, there’s no comforting nuzzle for the hapless ewe. They simply look at her and move on. Some sheep, especially lambs, see the unfortunate sheep as a game. They bounce on the sheep’s soft belly, enjoying the new sensation on their feet and marvelling at the way they can bounce higher into the air. This does nothing to help the sheep – it just causes her more distress.
If we saw this behaviour with humans, we’d be horrified and consider it bullying or assault.
You might think sheep would show a greater inclination to care for and protect their own offspring. But even this is limited to the first couple of weeks. Once a few weeks old, a ewe will leave a lamb to its own devices – no longer protecting its baby from foxes and badgers.
Again, if we noticed a parent who didn’t protect their small children from busy roads or deep rivers, we’d likely feel disgusted!
It’s almost ironic that our most valiant behaviours appear in the worst of times. Listening to the news reminds us of how survivors and passers-by step in to help those affected when disaster strikes. There’s no need for us to do this – we could just walk on by, simply observing, just as the sheep in the field observe the ewe lying helplessly on her back.
Manners and empathy set us apart from the animal kingdom, and there are times when we’d do well to remember this in the working world. It may be basic manners in the office and on social media, going out of your way to help a co-worker who’s having a terrible time of it, or a manager who asks how people are – and waits to hear the answer.
The human touch has the power to transform the way we feel and the way we work. Some businesses may appear to lack basic manners and empathy but the ones that go from strength to strength have a sense of community and caring, which brings out the best in everyone.
How are your manners in the workplace?