Show Conventional Signs Of Respect

The most fundamental of the CivilityPatterns.

A person's location in the social hierarchy is fundamental to his survival and well-being.

Threatening a person's social position is likely to lead to a fight.

Many necessary actions can be read as an attack on a person's social position. For example, expressing disagreement.

A person can only rationally believe that his social position is secure if he sees clear signals from others.

Every culture has numerous small rituals that, purely by convention, signify that people understand each other's social positions and intend to respect them. A simple example is saying "please". This word implies that the other person has the right to choose whether or not to grant your request, and that choosing to grant it is a favor. Omitting it implies that the other person's social position is so much lower than yours that he must kow-tow to your every whim.


Whenever interacting with others, show the conventional signs of respect. Make the signal so constant and so obvious that it's unmistakable: you are not threatening the social position of the person you're talking with, nor any of the rights and privileges attaching thereto. Signal that you have no intention of getting your way by going outside the long-negotiated social framework.

For example, when in Japan, bow according to the social formulas. When in Italy, address strangers by honorifics like "il signore". When asking people to do things for you, say "please" or "per favore" or whatever is customary.

Key to understanding the social rituals is that they are all completely arbitrary and nonsensical. Otherwise they would not demonstrate that you understand the social system and intend to play by its rules.


You may really want to challenge someone's social position, so you can occupy it yourself. In this case, challenge it by the conventional rituals for doing so. These are typically highly evolved and refined to minimize damage while letting people move into the best positions that they can get. Also, others must believe that you got your new social position legitimately or you won't really hold that position.

If you have a higher social position, never abuse it. Always show grace and generosity to those below you, or you'll provoke them into trying to unseat you.

Contributors: BenKovitz

This is an AntiPattern (or a DarkPattern). Only those insecure in their positions require constant redress by their perceived subordinates. Actually, there is something called the that more accurately describes this AntiPattern. Being polite by saying please and thank you to your peers is the real act of humility. The respect here is real, not forced, for you recognize that others have their own concerns that they'd rather address before yours. But if someone tries to dehumanize you by requiring faux respect, you have to bowl them over.

Note that customs like bowing aren't showing faux respect. They frame the relationship in a structure that people are used to. This prevents confusion and makes things easier. Feelings of slight may be real if you neglect etiquette, but I doubt most people are really trying to exert power over you by adhering to an age old protocol. -- SunirShah

If this is an AntiPattern, then virtually every culture or civilization that has ever existed is an AntiPattern.

It might help if I clarify a few things. Notice that it's not limited to subordinates showing respect to superiors. Everyone has to do the pattern all the time. Notice also that the pattern is not concerned primarily with feelings. It's about the down-to-Earth, obvious, practical way that we all get along by going along. It doesn't suggest faux respect, it explains worldwide practices of demonstrating one's loyalty in a way intelligible to others, for the sake of practical, tangible benefits that everyone can understand. There is nothing weak-willed or sneaky about it. --BenKovitz

I disagree. The way the text is written it is a DarkPattern:

Threatening a person's social position is likely to lead to a fight.

In this case, it isn't you that is being uncivil, but the insecure person seeking to preserve their fictional social status. Real social status is earned respect; fighting doesn't create respect. This becomes really a battle of the insecurities. Who's more insecure? You or them? Civility depends on others being civil as well. I expect the other person to not drown me in his neuroses. However, if you think what's described (bootlicking?) is a necessary skill for survival in the world for other reasons, I'd recommend moving it out of CivilityPatterns.

Maybe you could rewrite the pattern. Being polite and respectful of other people's lives, concerns, and feelings is being civil. -- SunirShah

I'm afraid I'm having some trouble following your argument. How do you get from the observation that threatening people's social position tends to get them into fighting mode, to drowning in other people's neuroses?

Ah, maybe here is a way out of our impasse: Is your beef with the description (you don't think real cultures work this way or respond to these forces; for example, you don't agree with the explanation of why we say "please"), the reality (you don't like the fact that this is how the real world really works; this seems to be the implication of calling it an AntiPattern), the prescription (you think the proposed response to the above configuration of forces, real as it is, tends to backfire; this seems to be the implication of calling it a DarkPattern), or something else? Perhaps you could tell me what proposition you disagree with, and we could go from there. --BenKovitz

I don't think this is why we say please and thank you in the first place. I think as described, this is a very cynical motivation. There are nicer reasons, as I described above (first paragraph, first response)--the Pattern. Bootlicking is certainly necessary for certain people, but that would be the DarkPattern. -- SunirShah

I am of the opinion that humans are largely primates first and humans second, so this pattern -- which speaks to the human behavior that I see when I go to the zoo and watch the animals -- resonates with me. I think it's a good observation, and rather than describing bootlicking, simply describes how one gets along with the primate part of your fellow humans. -- WayneConrad

Well, now that I've read the context in which this page was created, you should keep in mind that an online community is an open organization. If the general environment on Wiki is as described above, then people will not want to stay. This is along the lines of WikiIceberg, but where the ice is human pomp. In that case, this is an AntiPattern (not a DarkPattern). Actually, I'm considering removing myself from this conversation. If you are in the middle of "running someone out of town", then I don't respect this discussion qua discussion. --ss

which community would you prefer - one where people address each other with the polite titles, or one where they address each other with the rude ones? As has been mentioned in EmotionOnWiki, text lacks a fair bit of the cues to determine intent, and so appears more cold. Adding back in some warmth cannot harm the discourse. In my experience, I'm more inclined to believe the words of someone who is polite than someone who is rude, even if they say the same thing. --PeteHardie

See for more on the lack of emotion in text.

My objection is not towards being polite. My objection is to the cynical reasons suggested here for being polite. I refer you to the first paragraph of my first response. I don't think I was unclear. I will restate:

Being polite by saying please and thank you to your peers is the real act of humility. The respect here is real, not forced, for you recognize that others have their own concerns that they'd rather address before yours.

Saying please and thank you in a patronizing manner is not conducive to BarnRaising.

I agree with that. But I also think that many (most?) people will habitually associate rudeness with attack, since (in this day and age), attackers are never polite. People who are polite show that they at least acknowledge that I have a viewpoint that needs to be treated as valid at the start. Patronizing tones are impolite, even if the words are not.

By the way, "adding back in some warmth cannot harm the discourse." The suggestions on this page aren't adding warmth to the discussion. There is no sincerity in the words, and (you should assume that) people can detect insincerity. Moreover, if there is no warmth in the community, that is the real problem.

While I cannot speak for the others, I am sincere about this. Rudeness and/or lack of customary politeness does make me less likely to consider the opinions of people being rude. So if I wish to convince someone of my POV, I do not start out with rudeness. Even if I am the most cynical of a UsedCarSalesman?, I will behave as if the opinions expressed to me are likely to be SacredCows? of the expresser. --PeteHardie

Bear in mind that I wandered into this discussion thinking it was a legitimate PatternLanguage, but it seems to be an outgrowth of yet another flame war (DeclineOfCivility). If that's the case, then I can't say much about the issue. -- SunirShah

A few clarifications. (Sorry if not all of these are relevant, but it's hard to tell.) The pattern does not propose bootlicking. The pattern does not propose insincerity or a patronizing tone. The pattern does not propose catering to people's psychological insecurities. I don't think the explanation of politeness is cynical. Mutually understood acceptance of people's social positions is fundamental to human survival and well-being. Politeness and rudeness are conventional forms by which we (among other things) indicate our willingness to play within the social rules or go around them. The pattern says to make your intent to play within the rules comprehensible to others, by using the conventions designed to enable you to do just that. Stay out of unnecessary fights, and benefit from the joy and synergy that arise from respect for the social contract. --BenKovitz

P.S. As mentioned in CivilityPatterns, please let's not turn this into more WikiOnWiki. And yes, this page is intended as a legitimate Pattern (not a whole PatternLanguage, though).
"An armed society is a polite society" (according to RobertHeinlein).

Wiki is an armed society; we all have loaded guns, we all have the delete key available for the ultimate sanction. Therefore, take your usual politeness and make it bigger, more unmistakeable. Remember there is no BodyLanguage on Wiki. We can't smile, but we can say "please" and "thank you" instead.

A RobertHeinlein quote more appropriate to this page would be:

Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untraveled, the naive, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as "empty," "meaningless," or "dishonest," and scorn to use them. No matter how "pure" their motives, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best.

Being polite by saying please and thank you to your peers is the real act of humility. The respect here is real, not forced, for you recognize that others have their own concerns that they'd rather address before yours. Saying please and thank you in a patronizing manner is not conducive to BarnRaising.

However, by saying please and thank you to peers only, and then using the same language with a supposed inferior works to promote them. Peers get politeness, I got politeness, therefore I'm considered a peer. On the wiki we are all peers, there is no class system. -- EricScheid
See also: HandlingRespect

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