Has there been a decline in diffidence among ordinary people? Back in the fifties a TV camera crew out and about in the high street would have been treated with far more diffidence than today. Most fifties folk would be paralysed by the sight of a TV camera and reduced to monosyllabic imbecility by a microphone shoved under their noses.
Similarly a confident middle class voice would once have commanded not just respect, but often the most excruciating deference. An aristocrat, a celebrity or even a titled nonentity would receive and probably expect a grovel or two. Ordinary folk did not know how to behave in front of a camera, did not know what to say or how to say it to their social superiors. Did not seem to realise quite how undeserved that superiority often was.
Even today there are echoes of the automatic grovel, but they seem to be fading. As diffidence is closely related to perceived social distinctions, presumably this too has changed. Once upon a time we knew our place but now we seem to know better, or a little better. We know many other things too, but in particular we know that even royalty are just people, not earth-bound gods.
Today the diffidence hasn’t disappeared, but seems to be far less prominent than it was. Social status seems to make less difference to behaviour. We know people are fallible, know our leaders are fallible, often dishonest and sometimes criminally so.
On the whole the decline in diffidence appears to have been a benefit but there are disadvantages. Fools have become less diffident too.