On our 2010 trip one of the best meals of the trip occurred at a restaurant near the Aloha Tower called Chai’s Bistro. Where we ate was open-air but shaded, a soft breeze blowing, perfectly pressed tablecloth, flowers on the table. Not only was the environment tasteful but the meal turned out to be perfection for each of us! I don’t know why but when I sit down in a really classy restaurant I automatically shift into “proper table manners” mode: no elbows on the table, napkin in the lap, thanking the server whenever they pour more water. But is good manners on the same level as morality? (click any photos for fullsize image)
What comes to mind are scenes from the Godfather and films of that genre where proper table manners and absolutely correct outward expressions of respect are rigidly required. At the same time the one requiring these things views executing someone as simply business! There seems to be a chasm in their moral outlook which allows two aspects of their lives to stay separated. Can we separate “simply business” from the overall morality of our life? Do table manners and expressions of respect have anything to do with morality?
Perhaps on the lowest level they do in the sense that acting correctly at the table is a way of showing respect for others at the table and respect can be an expression of morality. But when expressions come out of a heart not really concerned with morality then these expressions are little more than convention, an expression not only devoid of moral value but actually expressions of an immoral heart. This is not to say that we needn’t have proper table manners but I could easily forgive someone spilling soup on the tablecloth over someone who is conventionally proper but an actual killer!
All of this makes me wonder if the old Hawaiian Kapu System and the drastic results of breaking any of them was a way of simplifying morality, a way of making morality understandable to the simplest person? When things are either/or with no gray area it certainly is easier to know when one has gone over the line! How moral is our sense of morality? Is our sense of right and wrong merely convention and not morality at all? In what ways is it possible for us to disrespect others even while observing social convention? Or are table manners good enough?