Manners also helped create the South’s famous “bless your heart” culture — a powerful way of seeming to be polite without being genuine.
Of the many absurdities perpetrated in the article, this may be the most egregious. Let me explain — no, it is too much, let me sum up.
It is not a matter of “seeing to be polite without being genuine,” it is a matter of being polite by refraining from being genuine. My “genuine” self, I am compelled to confess, is not lovely to behold. My friends and family members have to put up with it, at least to some extent, but it would be rude indeed for me to inflict it on you. Therefore I show my respect for you by putting on a mask of politeness and not exposing you to my feelings of the moment. I thereby imply that I would appreciate it if you reciprocated. Only an exceptionally naïve person would think that Southern politeness is sincere.
Any culture of politeness is based on the sober but accurate acknowledgement that “genuine” and “authentic” people tend to be a major pain in the neck. A genteel hypocrisy, therefore, greases the wheels of social life.
When Jimmy Carter was running for President, a journalist came to Plains, Georgia to interview his mother, the redoubtable Miss Lillian. After a few pleasantries he got down to work. He wanted to get her response to her son’s claim that he would never lie to the American people. Did she really believe that?
Miss Lillian replied that she did.
The reporter was highly dubious. He wondered whether it was possible that Jimmy had never lied at all.
Miss Lillian allowed that he might at some point have uttered “a little white lie,” but no more than that.
At this the reporter swooped in for the kill. A white lie? What makes something a white lie? How do you define a white lie, and distinguish it from some other kind?
“Well,” said Miss Lillian, “I don’t know whether I can define it, but I can give you an example.”
The reporter insisted that she do just that.
“All right,” she said. “Remember how, when you came to the door, I told you I was glad to see you?”