Why Can’t We All Switch-On Our “Manner Mode?”

Returning to Japan after a 9-year absence reminded me of why I first fell in love with the culture and language over 40 years ago. The Japanese are polite!

Riding on the infamously-crowded subways of Tokyo serves as one of many reminders of this society of “other-centered” people. Always mindful of not imposing on each other’s space, the Japanese turn off their cell phone ringers and turn down the volume of their music while on the train. They put their cell-phones in Manner Mode!

Why subject other riders to one’s own favorite music or personal telephone conversations? In a country as crowded as Japan, the Japanese do an admirable job of treating each other with the respect and courtesy usually limited to small towns.

Of any culture on earth, the Japanese deserve the right to be surly and self-centered. 24 years of economic malaise, plus the devastating tsunami and radiation disaster of 2011, should leave any population reeling.

Not so with the Japanese. Do they loot each other’s stores and neighborhoods when their houses are swept away? No. They file into emergency shelters in a calm and orderly fashion. Do they try to take more space for their families and spread out once in the shelters? No. They spread out their allotment of blankets and stay on those blankets

Riding on any city bus or train, the small signs found throughout the public transportation system provide a simple reminder. An image of a cell-phone with a big red “X” crossed through it is followed by the words, “Please put your telephone in Manner Mode.” More impressive than the signs is the train-load of passengers abiding by the rule.

If more Americans switched on their Manner Mode, both with their cell phones and personal interactions, we wouldn’t need so many classes on Customer Service or Conflict Resolution.

If so, I’d be out of a job … and thrilled.