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One casualty of the current pandemic is likely to be good manners. True, manners and civility have been dying for ages, but COVID-19 is sure to finish them off. Which is too bad.

We often think of manners and civility as the same thing, but the first is only a part of the second. Civility is the sum of all the sacrifices that we make for the sake of living in a workable society. Manners matter to civility not only because they are valuable in themselves (although they may be) but because they have traditionally constituted what the historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. described as our “letter of introduction” to strangers. At a time when information about people was relatively expensive, Schlesinger saw good manners as signaling what sort of people we were.

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