Originally Posted by hyperskeptic
I think there's something to be said for a degree of formality in how people interact, though only up to a point. Early in a developing relationship - of any kind, from business relationships to possible romantic relationships - it can be a way of being mindful, of avoiding missteps and misunderstandings. The trick, I suppose, is to not let the forms take over and become mindless.
There's a beautiful story about the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who is even now often mocked for the formality of his ways and his principled insistence on duty above all.
Just days before his death, he was being attended by a friend when his doctor arrived for a visit. With great difficulty, Kant stood up from his chair when the doctor entered the room.
The doctor implored Kant to sit down, given how weak and how ill he was. Kant remained standing and muttered something about "posts" and "important posts."
Kant's friend explained to the doctor that Kant was thanking the doctor for taking the time to visit, given all of the important posts to which the doctor had to attend. He further explained that Kant would not sit down until his guest was seated as well.
The doctor didn't quite believe this, thinking his patient was merely suffering delirium.
Kant gathered what little strength he had to say a full coherent sentence, perhaps among the very last things he uttered.
He said - and I think I have this right - "The feeling for humanity has not altogether abandoned me."
What I take from this story, in this context, is a sense of how formality can keep from becoming just empty formalism: when it is backed by respect, care and attention, filled with a "feeling for humanity".
Note: The story about Kant's final days is included in Ernst Cassier, Kant's Life and Thought