Etiquette … From Solomon to Emily Post

In 1922, Emily Post became a household name when her book, Etiquette, In Society, In Business, In Politics, and At Home, soared to the top of America’s bestseller list. Over the years, the work remained popular as her descendants updated it to fit changing times and social customs. Yet notably, some of the work’s foundational principles have not changed. In fact, they parallel an ancient source. For God, thousands of years before Emily Post, recorded His principles of social decorum in Proverbs. And one should expect that any enduring text on etiquette would mirror the Creator’s unchanging Word. Consider the following excerpts and some corresponding wisdom from Scripture:

1. “Nearly all the faults or mistakes in conversation are caused by not thinking or by lack of consideration … Only by careful listening to our own words and strict attention to the reactions of our listeners can we discover our personal inadequacies. The burden of thinking before speaking is our own.”[1] (Proverbs 21:23, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”)

2. “Conversation should not be about someone else, especially in a group, even a group of close friends. ‘Whew,’ remarked a friend of mine once after a dinner party where a woman we both knew dissected the life of another friend, ‘if she talked like that about Kathy, I wonder what she says about me!’ One of the kindest people I know, when faced with this situation, immediately halts the speaker by saying, ‘Goodness, Barbara, Adriane always says such nice things about you!’ and then immediately changes the topic.”[2] (Proverbs 11:12, “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.”)

3. “A tactful person involved in a discussion says, ‘It seems to me,’ not ‘That’s not so!’ which is tantamount to calling the other a liar. If you find another’s opinion totally unacceptable, try to change the subject as soon as possible. If you care too intensely about a subject, it is dangerous to allow yourself to say anything.”[3] (Proverbs 18:19, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.”)

4. “There is a big difference between sharing the accomplishments of ourselves or our loved ones with close family members and extolling their virtues to anyone we happen to meet. One of the best things about having family members who care about us is that we can brag just a little, for when they love us, they are just as pleased as we are. Others are not terribly interested, however, and even when bursting with pride, the good conversationalist does not go on and on about what a wonderful job he did, or how bright his son is.”[4] (Proverbs 27:2, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”)

5. “There are seldom regrets for what you have left unsaid. ‘Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt.’ Don’t pretend to know more than you do. No person of real intelligence hesitates to say, ‘I don’t know.’ People who talk too easily are likely to talk too much and at times imprudently.”[5] (Proverbs 18:2, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”)

Of course, Emily Post’s book of etiquette covers many details not addressed by the Bible – the placement of knives, forks, and spoons for a dinner party, the use of titles in formal correspondence, and the seating of relatives at a wedding. But many of the basic principles are the same in that they are matters of thoughtfulness, amiability, and stewardship of one’s influence – all of which are issues of divine concern.

[1] Peggy Post, Emily Post’s Etiquette, 16th ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 4.

[2] Ibid., 7.

[3] Ibid., 7-8.

[4] Ibid., 8-9.

[5] Ibid., 12.