This is possibly the most relevant question we can ask ourselves on the topic of etiquette. How we answer it determines our attitudes and behaviours in all aspects of life. One of the more popular answers to this question depends heavily on a particular attitude: be on ones best behaviour only when it might be in one’s own best interest. The clearest example is the average job interview for a young person. Never is your attention to self refinement more evident than when you are being scrutinized by a possible employer. Whenever I have had to hire someone there were always two major giveaways as to their character: their attention to details (what to wear and how to wear it) and how comfortable they are with their own behaviour.
If we chose to look at etiquette strictly from the perspective of self gain, perverted as that may be, we can already start to see the benefits. If you can talk the talk and walk the walk you can put on a pretty show for the sake of other people’s expectations. This will involve much of the same work as going about it earnestly, since you would want your performance to be convincing, but there will be nothing genuine about it. It might get you by at a job interview to force yourself to adhere to a few rules but when you are too selective of where you use your best behaviour over time you run the risk of offending the very people you sought to impress in the first place. I see this attitude of minimal effort for self gain to be wholly lazy and ultimately self destructive.
So why burden ourselves with all of these social rules? Well in a sense it is a silly question, after all laws are little more than social rules with punishments attached. I myself am not a perfect gentleman, admittedly because there is usually no immediate punishment, but it is not because I see no reason to make the lasting effort. Besides the fact that I have incredibly high standards for being a true gentleman, I am young and am only starting to see how this whole thing works in the long term.
If we embrace the finer points of etiquette with a genuine attitude then we stand a chance of becoming a good and refined person, as opposed to merely pretending to be. This means the best way to answer the question we started with is to say etiquette for etiquettes sake. If someone treats me kindness of consideration far beyond my expectations then I am far more likely to emulate that behaviour. That being said someone always has to take the first step when those around him are crippled by apathy.