Heinous Formality

We do it often. We do it to many people. We hide behind its facile faade. We dont recognize its incongruousness. We are oblivious to its anachronism. We dont see how inappropriate it is to the places we now inhabit. Sometimes we seem to think were still living in mediaeval times or in a remote village in Outer Mongolia. It, of course, is formality. Even our Armenian language, by its current usage condemns us to formality. If someones older or otherwise allegedly worthy of respect, the plural form is called for. But why? Is and ought it not be the case that respect is earned by its recipient and demonstrated through the actions and true demeanor of its giver? This is a holdover from a different time. Why should person A render him/herself subservient simply by meeting person B who is presumed, with no foundation in fact, to be As better? Sounds like an aristocratic, snobby, constricting, obscurantist mentality, doesnt it? Yet, we engage in it all the time, unthinkingly, unquestioningly, and we expect it of others too. I have a German friend, third generation in the US, who spent several years in Germany in the sixties. In a recent conversation, he told me that, back then, things were much as they are in our community in the realm of social interactions very rigid, very hierarchical, very formal. However, hes kept in touch and things have loosened up during the intervening half-century. That, I suspect, is the trend of the planet. We should keep pace. We often confuse and conflate ritual for respect, and rigidity for rectitude. I am not advocating disrespecting one another, as some seem to think when I discuss this topic with them. That would be advocating social dysfunctionality. I am advocating very much the opposite that respect should be real, not formalistic. Look at the word formal, it comes from form. Which is more important, form or content? (I know, I know, this is an old question). Obviously both affect one-another. Too much of either is ill conceived. Currently, we give form far more importance than it deserves. This may even underlie many of our organizations problems. I find such behavior dehumanizing. Yet it even exists within families. I cant imagine having been that formal with my grandparents and great-grandparents. It would have created such a chasm between us, that I never would have benefited from their love and lore. When I see this in other families, it is troubling. I think it points out the insecurity of the elders before their progeny when they cower behind this wall of formality. What are they afraid of? The same applies to other societal situations. Why rely on a bunch of rules formulated in times and places whose living conditions were radically different from the high-contact, maximum-communication urban settings in which most Armenia’s live today? Many of us adore the US as the provider of opportunity. We forget that much of this anyone can become president mentality domes from Jacksonian, pioneer-backwoods intolerance for formality. Thats how this country of, for, and by the people was built. If today things are a bit more formal, it may be a sign of age and atrophy, or the fact that a pseudo-aristocracy composed of the moneyed class and the likes of the Bush family (I only I use them as the most obvious example, not in my usual Bush-bashing sense) hold lopsided sway in the halls of power. In the early days of the American Republic, if I remember my grade school history, it was even forbidden to accept titles from European monarchs. What does all this tell you? The bondage that formality creates strangles modern life it creates distance and aloofness among and by people. The two are incompatible. In fact, I dare say that those who practice formality in their daily lives are, knowingly or otherwise, disrespecting and demeaning the objects of their purported propriety. Lets start shedding this unnecessary formality, truly respecting one another, and building a healthy and intimate community engaged in a struggle for the liberation of its homeland.


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