On Manners, Corruption, and War in Ukraine
Updated: Apr 12
The medieval city of Viseu ((pronounced vee say oo) sits in the center of Portugal surrounded by mountains and rivers.
On a Friday night, I found a convenient parking spot in the center of the city. Ecstatic, I pulled in and, then, questioned the blue line marking the space and the three-digit number on the curb.
Was my car parked legally?
Viseu has undertaken an ambitious traffic project to encourage more bicycles and fewer cars. Bicycle lanes have been drawn, and parking at the Social Security Building’s generous lot has been closed to everyone.
When I exited my car, I shrank back from what looked like an overbearing and naked circuit board. In no way did this machine resemble the previously small and familiar parking ticket machines. Where was the start button?
Fortunately, I spotted a man in his twenties who had just parked himself and was about to enter a building. I asked him for help.
In Portugal, there is a common term, bem-educado, which means well-mannered. However, it is more than a phrase: it is a concept.
“A child who is bem-educado gets up on the bus to make way for an elderly person, shares the toy or gummies with the other child, doesn’t make fun of his disabled colleague but gives him his arm, passes the ball to his friend and goes to visit his sick grandmother,” according to Jesuitas em Portugal (March 13, 2019).
“They learn that they are loved by many people but that they are not the center of the universe. Things do not revolve around them, and they will be greater the more they know how to turn to others with attention and concrete gestures.”
This young man was bem-educado.
Yes, I was parked legally, indicated by the blue line. The number of the parking space had to be punched in. How long would I be there? Three hours. OK, then, I should pay only for 20 minutes because parking is free after a certain time.
Twice, he operated the ticket machine for me because we timed out on the first attempt. Then, he showed me where to display the ticket on my dashboard.
Obrigada (Thank you).
Manners are so important. They are a shared code that reminds people of simple acts of kindness. Each time we say Bom dia. (Good day). Boa tarde (Good afternoon), Bom fim de semana (Have a good weekend), we are exercising our muscle of goodwill.
What can rupture the tradition of manners?
Corruption and war.
Transparency International defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis, according to the non-profit group whose mandate is to fight corruption around the world.
However, corruption, like manners, can be a small thing done by a private citizen. Also, like manners, it is done over and over again until it permeates society and is viewed as normal. Often, older people do not even realize that they are committing corruption.
I am one of these people.
In the past, I have given bottles of olive oil from my trees to my doctor and other members of the medical establishment whom I saw on a regular basis. I thought that it was a nice thing to do. I was also proud of my good-tasting olive oil and hard work, and I did think that the olive oil would help them remember me. I suggested this practice to an Israeli acquaintance in his 30s, and he could not back away from me far enough. I felt Satanic as I kept inching toward him, trying to explain myself, and he kept pulling away. He considered my gifts to be acts of corruption.
I had not thought of my actions as currying favor and never as corruption.
Most people my age, in their sixties, from southern Europe and Central and South America, would not characterize my gifts as nefarious. Therefore, when I look at Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s new cabinet, I am not struck by the preponderance of women (nine women and eight men), the first time that women have outnumbered men.
Instead, I notice the comparative youth of the new ministers (eight in their 40s, eight in their 50s and one in his sixties). They are young enough to sense change around them and not argue against its existence.
Now, what does war have to do with manners?
In war, there are rules of engagement. They are the manners of war. The rules of engagement are the directives given to military forces that define the circumstances, conditions, degree and manner in which the use of force may be applied to a situation. They are part of a general recognition that procedures and standards are essential to the conduct and effectiveness of civilized warfare, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Civilized warfare. An oxymoron. A concept composed of contradictory words.
Historically, the notion that war should be regulated has been backed by a long list of international treaties and agreements, the most significant being the Geneva Convention, which regulates the treatment of prisoners of war and civilians, says Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Since the end of World War II -- the war after the war to end all wars -- global treaties and international law have forbidden deliberate attacks on civilians and population centers, according to The New York Times (April 10).
Last week, in Ukraine in the town of Bucha, dead civilians populated the streets. At a train station, men, women and children panicked in flight from rockets falling down on them. These attacks were the latest in a series of what some are calling war crimes since February 24, when Russian forces invaded Ukraine without provocation.
Here we have another sexagenarian, like me: Vladimir Vladinirovich Putin, 69, president of Russia since 2012 and, previously, from 2000 to 2008 for a total of 18 years. He was also prime minister from 1999 to 2000 and, again, from 2008 to 2012 for a total of five years. He is a patriot of a greater Russia, in size and stature, playing by his old and corroded handbook. He does not think that he is being corrupt or committing heinous acts. In his nostalgic and twisted mind, he is restoring to Russia what belongs to Russia. He is an old man sending young men to their deaths.
Time to move on, Putin. Time to leave Ukraine to its good people.
Say goodnight, Vladimir.
It is polite.