Sunday, September 20, 2015

Kenko: Signs of a well-bred person

No. 56

How boring it is when you meet a man after a long separation and he insists on relating at interminable length everything that has happened to him in the meantime.  Even if the man is an intimate, somebody you know extremely well, how can you but feel a certain reserve on meeting him again after a time?  The vulgar sort of person, even if he goes on a brief excursion somewhere, is breathless with excitement as he relates as matters of great interest everything that happened to him.   When the well-bred man tells a story he addresses himself to one person, even if many people are present, though the others too listen, naturally.  But the ill-bred man flings out his words into the crowd, addressing himself to no one in particular, and describes what happened so graphically that everyone bursts into boisterous laughter.  You can judge a person's breeding by whether he is quite impassive even when he tells an amusing story, or laughs a great deal even when relating a matter of no interest.

It is most distressing when the good and bad of somebody's appearance or the quality of a certain person's scholarship is being evaluated, for the speaker to refer to himself by way of comparison. 

-- Kenko --
from Essays in Idleness

This probably sounds strange to us, but I wonder how often we make judgements like these, but we aren't aware of the standards we are applying.  Of course, we don't speak of  "breeding" today, but are more likely to talk about good manners or politeness or courtesy towards others.

According to Kenko, the well-bred person is rather reticent upon meeting somebody after a long separation or especially after taking a short trip.   A story really should be told as if it is to one person, even if others are present  and is quite reserved when telling a story, especially if it is of minor interest.  And most of all, when discussing someone's appearance or scholarship, one should never use himself as a comparison.

What do you think?  Would these be viewed the same way in our culture as Kenko does?  What do these behaviors tell us about the individual?  Do you know anyone who might commit one or more of these social "transgressions"?



  1. I prefer a bit of reserve in all things. Yes, I don't like it when someone enlarges a minor story. Comparisons aren't my cup of tea either. It tells a lot about a person, none of it very good.

    My friends (whom I haven't seen in ages though we communicate online of course) just returned from Europe and surprised me by dropping by the house (after calling first, of course) and I liked that they didn't expound on their trip until asked and even then they didn't go on and on. It shows delicacy in a way because they know I couldn't afford such a trip anymore and I did appreciate it. It made me want to hear more about the trip in a way.

    As for breeding - well, of course we don't talk about it anymore exactly, but I think there are circumstances in which we can feel the lack of it when in the company of strangers and/or meeting someone new. It's an inchoate thing, I suppose.

  2. Yvette,

    I suspect that Kenko would definitely approve of your friends. Breeding sounds so upper-class snobbishness. Instead of breeding we today would talk about courtesy, politeness, thoughtfulness, or perhaps even upbringing.

    Yes, frequently less is more.