Mind Your Character’s Manners

We live in a time in which civility is eroding and courtesy for others gets pushed into the past by cell phones and other electronics.  I’ve been thinking lately about how people treat each other not only over big things but also the small, mundane things.  How will they treat each other in the future?  Will courtesy still exist?  Or will it be an “every person for him/herself and the rest of America doesn’t matter” kind of future?

What about Europe in the future?  My experience of living in Europe showed me how Europeans value courtesy as a sign of basic respect for others.  I suspect that in 2011, that has changed, as it’s changed in America.  I began to think about how my characters in Perceval’s Secret and the other novels in the series treat each other.  Where have they learned how to behave in public and with others?  Whether a character behaves with good manners or not can reveal his character, his background, and give a glimpse of his values.

The America I envision in 2048-50 for the Perceval novels has an elite, wealthy class that also includes those in political power, and the workers who support and serve the rich but have little influence or voice.  The American Dream has disappeared, although it’s still given lip service by the wealthy to encourage the workers to dream and work hard for them.  The European Union has strengthened, in contrast, and become the bastion of democracy and democratic values.  Russia has descended into an autocracy.  China has emerged as the world’s new superpower and the leader of a coalition of Asian countries.  America still wields economic influence but not political.  The global market continues to be a fragile construction, subject to fluctuations often tied to America playing fast and loose with securities and investments.

When I think of Europeans in this future, I think of people who value individuality as well as community, and who would also value civil discourse and behavior.  They value people over money.  Courtesy would influence their behavior toward others, and the American Elite would interpret it as either a weakness of living in the past or a facade hiding ulterior motives.  The American Elite value money over people.

Evan Quinn, as a worker, has grown up within a community of artists and other workers.  His parents valued freedom, democracy and the original Constitution, and saw money as a necessary evil. They would have taught Evan to value people over money.  I see Evan as being a polite person who treats others with courtesy and respect.  But he’s quite familiar with the American Elite, their demanding ways, their view of workers as being inferior, and their efforts to hide their dependence on them.  They demand to be treated with deference and respect but do not return it when dealing with workers.

Evan’s European experience ends up affirming his upbringing as a courteous person.  Because of his American experience, though, he will make assumptions about discourteous people and people in authority.  I think he responds to them with a mixture of fear and anger.  To him, being rude equals disrespectful treatment.

How a character behaves in public and how he treats others in both public and private reveals much about his beliefs, values and background.  It also reveals much about the society in which he lives, or used to live.  Watch your characters’ manners.  Courtesy can be an important aspect of human behavior…..


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