What role does hospitality (including proper etiquette and manners) play in a civilized society?
Interestingly, we live in a society that has seen the gradual erosion in the importance of ritual, etiquette, and social formalities and conventions, as well as a decline in the respect for institutional authority. Additionally, or perhaps as an outgrowth of this phenomenon, we also live in a society that values instant gratification in ways that seem to minimize the value of hard work and waiting for things that are worth waiting for. One need look no further than America's public schools to see examples of this cultural shift, although that is certainly not the only area of society where it is apparent.
In his landmark book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, business leader and co-founder of the Franklin Covey Company, Stephen R. Covey commented on this cultural shift, describing it as a change from the "character" ethic to the "personality" ethic. The character ethic, he claimed, was a philosophy based on fundamental principles in conducting one's life and relationships, principles that do not change, are timeless. The personality ethic, he claimed, was based more on public relations, positive attitudes and appearances. The character ethic focused on one's internal growth and development, while the personality ethic focused on outward behavior. Covey claimed that many of the problems we face in our professional and personal relationships resulted from this essentially self-centered paradigm shift--fitting perfectly with the shift to our self-centered society.
The idea of manners and etiquette and extending hospitality is based on the philosophy of appropriately interacting with others in a way that makes others feel valued and important; clearly this is difficult if not impossible when one is focused exclusively on oneself. How this might come to impact America in the long term has yet to be seen, but it's interesting to note that Covey also observed that the focus on oneself and instant gratification preceded the fall of a great society, the Roman Empire.